Goal!

When I accomplish a goal, I wish I had a button to push. It would play a recording of one of those European soccer announcers celebrating the ball making it in the net. I don’t speak Spanish or Italian, but their passion for the game is contagious. I’m going to start my next writing day by finding a clip of of that drawn out, Goooooooooalllll! It’s fabulous.

At this point in the year, I’m still pretty pumped about my hopes, dreams and resolutions. Everything is still possible and I don’t hear that giant egg timer in my head ticking away the days and weeks quite so loudly.

My writing goals are going quite well. And it’s about time. I have enlisted as many pressures as I can tolerate to push me to finish my memoir, The Second. Yep, I named the book. This is a big deal for me as I’ve changed it at least six times. I’m sticking with this one.

I heard about a very successful life coach, speaker and author (Mel Robbins) who admitted she rewrote one of her best-selling books twice. I was like, what? Try seven or eight times on this God forsaken tome. The difference is, her book sold very well and mine is in my computer. It’s the perfection trap and a lot of other excuses that have held me back. But no more! I’ve promised myself, my kids and my therapist (and now you) I’m done as of March 1, 2020. No more editing, tweaking, fixing or supposed improvements.

It started out years ago as The Great American Novel. What a ridiculous quest that was. In trying to be everything to everyone, I lost sight of my North Star; my voice as a writer. The inner critic ran roughshod over my drafts, grinding her heel on the pages and laughing as she reminded me, “You’ll never finish.”

When I switched to memoir, I thought I was going to complete it quickly. Oh, the angsty crap I generated in that endeavor. I have nixed ninety percent of the scenes I thought I needed and it now has a central theme: faith. That’s it. Not the life and times of every good and bad thing that ever happened to me. That’s not memoir. It’s just a mess.

I’m eager to have you read it. It will not be perfect but that should never have been the goal. I’m shooting for good enough.

~ Colleen

Perfection Achieved*

1988

I have another story to tell you. This family photo was my Christmas card thirty-one years ago. One of my dearest friends received it and declared the image and my family perfect. I politely thanked her and marveled at how one click of a camera lens can convey such deception.

I’m coming to grips with and only recently admitting how much my quest for perfection affects everything I do. It’s not hubris, in my definition. It’s a terrifying need to manage details and control.

This photo is a great example. I had to schedule weeks in advance and the only timeslot available before the holidays was at the end of November. It was at 8am the day after my sister’s wedding. I booked it because I was desperate.

The kids were cranky to get dressed up so early. My husband and I were fighting about who knows what and my beautiful dress reeked of stale cigarette smoke from the reception the night before. I had just started blow drying my hair when the power in the house went out. I finished my make-up in the dimly lit bathroom. We arrived late to the studio and had to beg to have them take a few shots.

Personally, I was in an incredibly bad place and completely unaware it would lead to a mental health crisis six months later. I wasn’t eating or sleeping much and my life felt like one of the flooded staterooms on the Titanic. The door was bulging, water seeping around the edges and the whole thing was about to burst.

Perfect? Not exactly, but I tried awfully hard to look the part. As I take stock in how I approach my life three decades later, perfectionism makes me late, frustrated and ultimately insecure. I have laid the blame squarely on my need to make my book perfect for why it’s not done. It’s a completely unattainable goal resulting in a hamster wheel of self-doubt.

I’m taking steps to counteract the rigid standard I’ve set for myself and the zero tolerance policy I have for mistakes. March 1st, 2020 is my final line in the sand. No more editing, tweaking or supposed improvements to the manuscript. It’s going to have to be good enough.

(*I took a snap of an original photo for this post and had to re-do it four times because it wasn’t, um, you get the picture. I’m still a work in progress.)

~Colleen

CBD

The Exception

A standout fellow writer

I vented a little in yesterday’s post, lamenting the lack of usable comps and writers of mental health memoirs who are with it. I neglected to mention someone who’s work I admire. The inimitable, the amazing…Jenny Lawson aka The Bloggess.

This woman has written multiple best sellers, maintained a killer blog and is scorchingly hilarious. I have no connection to Ms. Lawson except to admire her work. She’s a standout as an artist/comedian/writer not only for her body of work, but for her radical honesty and authenticity. Those are words she both challenges fellow writers with and the style she uses to share her story.

Jenny lives with mental illness. She’s open about it and shares a bit of her experience in this just released TEDx talk.

Only 12 minutes. Totally worth watching.

I consider Jenny Lawson a beacon in the darkness. She succeeds, fails, laughs at herself and pushes the rest of us to take risks and get out there. Be prepared, she doesn’t hold back the f-bombs. It’s a stylistic choice I don’t subscribe to myself, at least in public, but it works for her.

I’m still interested in finding talented, funny writers of mental wellness blogs and memoirs. Let me know what you find.

~Colleen aka CBD

Diving In

Let’s talk.

Wow. I’ve been spending a lot of time researching comparable and competitive titles as I prepare to publish my memoir. The first pool I dipped my toe into was general memoir. There seems to be no shortage of writers wanting to tell their version of the dash between birth and an end date. In order to narrow the field, I searched for mental health memoirs. Apparently, there are a lot of those as well. I concentrated on bipolar survivors.

Sadly, many of these writers are not in a good place. I get it. The nature of the illness is episodic and unpredictable. It’s very difficult to maintain the levels of concentration and consistency required to produce a book-length manuscript for anybody. To do so while battling bipolar disorder is much more challenging. I have fought through many years of illness, apathy, self-doubt and purple prose to finally produce a substantive draft. It’s not quite finished, but it’s close.

With the explosion of self-publishing, there are books out there that give the sub-genre of bipolar memoir a bad name. I found indecipherable titles, typos in the subtitles, tales of woe and miracle cures. It’s no wonder traditional publishing routes and agents give the vast majority of these books a loud and clear “no.”

I don’t have an axe to grind about people trying to produce a good book or tell their story. It’s what makes the literary world turn. I wish there were more writers well enough to write books and blogs about bipolar/mental wellness. There is a dearth of hopeful narratives coherently describing long term success. If you have any blog or current book title recommendations matching my parameters, I’d love to hear about them. Feel free to leave me a comment.

It’s a new year. I want to start it out by diving in and taking risks. I don’t intend to offend anyone. I just want to read your best work and raise the bar for all of us.

~ Colleen

New Year? Bring it.

Exuberance

New beginnings started yesterday. I’m not totally giving 2019 the bum’s rush because it was a decent year for me. In fact, it was downright remarkable. I put my nose to the grindstone and worked almost single-mindedly on a project that has been haunting most of my adult life. My memoir is essentially written, in need of final edits.

I got a huge monkey off my back when I disclosed my bipolar diagnosis publicly last year, in advance of the book’s release. Where this was hardly news for most people who knew me, speaking openly about mental illness was kind of a big deal. There were a few comments I could have done without, like, “You’re not crazy now, are you?” People show their uncomfort in many ways regarding certain subjects.

It would be lovely if speaking my truth magically opened doors for me. It’s actually, in the short term, proving to do the opposite. But I’m in it for the long haul and I strongly believe being candid and open will help a lot more people than just me.

I’m excited for this new year and the Twenties. What an amazing time to be alive. The book will definitely be finished this year and that makes me feel like those kids in the picture. Yes, bring on whatever the Universe has in store. I’m ready.

Don’t be afraid of goals or avoid making resolutions because you might fall short. Write them down. Challenge yourself to dream big. Let’s do this new year proud.

~CBD

Coming Up for Air

Feeling free

This is how I feel today. I’m taking a few days off from writing to make a couple of pies and enjoy Thanksgiving with my family. I have cooked a turkey almost every year since I was twenty-four. This year, I’m a guest at my sister’s house and I’m responsible for dessert. This is completely in my wheelhouse.

I must be living right. Thoroughly prepared to make three pies, I got a request for a specific tart cherry, available frozen for pick up. So I did. Then today, I came home from an errand to find a fancy pumpkin pie on dry ice in a box on my doorstep. It was a gift from a business associate of my husband’s. Heavy points scored on that one.

For my one chance to bake, I’ll be making a Death by Chocolate pie. I certainly hope it doesn’t live up to its billing.

Book Update

It’s been so long since I posted about my book, I have to share how things are going. Over the first weekend in November, I attended Wordsmith2019 in Minneapolis. This writers conference was inspiring, invigorating and incredible. To be immersed for two days in all things writing felt so natural, yet thrilling. I attended breakout sessions on craft, publishing, best practices and heard an amazing keynote address from Madeline Miller. Ms. Miller told the audience how she wrote The Song of Achilles and Circe , two superb books, and the effort she expended to be true to her vision for the manuscripts.

I had a happening at the conference which sent me scurrying to the keyboard. For fear of jinxing anything, I’ll keep the specifics under wraps. I’ve had my author hat on, day and night, which is the reason the surfacing whale and I are kindred spirits. Woman does not live on writing alone and my life has been pretty one-dimensional for a few months.

To keep me balanced, I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving and a rousing Minnesota Gopher football game this weekend with some very dear friends.

Here’s wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving, safe travels and an opportunity to relax with gratitude.

~Colleen

…And Exhale

On the bright side

Well, I got my editor’s notes regarding my draft memoir on Friday. In an attempt to prepare myself for the worst, I imagined all the negative things she could have written. None of those things came to pass. She also did not declare the book the greatest thing she’d ever read. I knew there’d be room for improvement in the draft and apparently she thought so too.

Now that I’ve had a few days to digest our phone call, her five page letter and the notes on the manuscript itself, I’ve decided a few things. Number one, there were very few instances where I didn’t agree with her edits. Number two, although the story is about me, my life is not being critiqued. I’ve worked way too long on this project to publish anything less than the best writing I can muster. I’m a little shell shocked finding out how far off the mark I was, but I’ll get over it. Sorry to be vague about the feedback, but I haven’t developed enough of a writer’s callus to roll with the punches quite yet.

The subject, my struggle with mental illness, is not a recent happening. I’ve been immersed in that world for a long time. I have, however, been public about my version of bipolar disorder only recently. It feels like Bambi discovering a frozen pond for the first time. The telling requires a lot more than simple honesty and unfortunately it came out more clumsily than anticipated. I guarded those details and feelings from everyone for a long time. I am still differentiating between the story and the structure that needs to be in place to effectively tell the tale.

One thing I was told in an early writing class was, “You can fix bad writing. You can’t fix what you haven’t written.” On the bright side, I have plenty of ideas to take the book in a new direction.

I had a beautiful mini-vacation this past weekend with my husband and we took in the sights of fall color in northern Minnesota. I’m refreshed and eager to get back to work.

Onward!

Colleen

Deep Breath

Here we go

Today is a big day. After six weeks away from my draft, I’m having a teleconference with my editor to hear her feedback. To get in a receptive frame of mind, I watched vintage Brené Brown in her inaugural TEDx talk about vulnerability. I hadn’t seen it in a while and her simple yet fierce courage always inspires me.

Another favorite, JK Rowling’s, “Fringe Benefits of Failure” (2008 Commencement Address to Harvard graduates) puts things in perspective. https://www.ted.com/talks/jk_rowling_the_fringe_benefits_of_failure/up-next

During the speech, she eloquently describes something I have also experienced: Epic failure. Ms. Rowling stated how actually freeing it was to note, “my greatest fear had been realized.”

Living with mental illness for the past thirty years and battling back from excruciating episodes more times than I can count has helped me understand resilience and get a grip on what matters most. I want to be open to my editor’s suggestions, listen without defensiveness and be present to the experience. I’m excited to get back to the business of writing and revising. I must say, I do prefer being in the arena to the surety and safety of not submitting my work. It’s all part of the writing life to take creative risks, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’ll report in on how it goes.

~Colleen

Getting Real

It’s time.

When I started this blog, I actually believed I could fill the spaces with funny, anecdotal stories about writing. Surely my wit could carry the day, right? As it turns out, I was mistaken. After this week, it feels disingenuous to project such a simple, one-sided view. It’s not about the lighter side of life. In fact, I’m making some changes to the site to reflect more honest content.

Last Friday, I attended a gala fundraiser for a non-profit organization that provides mental health services. For the last several years I’ve donated money to them, more or less under the radar. When pressed for a particular reason, I always demurred. I mentioned “a family member” or some other less than candid response.

With the recent completion of my memoir, I decided to quit hiding. If the subject came up at the dinner, I wanted to dare myself to state why I had a connection to this particular charity. I was asked, and my first response came out haltingly. “I’m a donor.” I said. I checked her eyes for receptivity, then continued. “I actually have bipolar affective disorder. I’ve been fortunate to have had good medical care. A lot of people don’t, which is why I support [x].”

The woman smiled politely. I told a complete stranger I was mentally ill and neither of us turned into a pillar of salt. I disclosed my affliction to the next person who asked why I was there. There was a slight deer in the headlights hesitation, then she continued chewing her over-cooked roast beef. Morris Day and The Time came onstage and the evening ended on a high note.

Later in the week, I posted publicly for Mental Health Awareness Week. It still feels weird. Vulnerable, exposed and raw in an era when bullying and shaming are commonplace. I genuinely feel it’s worth it to be part of the conversation, however. Huge sigh of relief. Onward.

~ Colleen

Mental Health Awareness Week

Summer 1989

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d post a picture of my beautiful family from the year I was diagnosed with bipolar affective disorder. It was a tough summer for everybody. We were able to fit in a vacation in August, shown above, in Pequot Lakes, MN.

Those wonderful babies are all supportive, empathic adults now and I couldn’t be prouder of them. They, and my husband, have buoyed me through a lot of difficult moments. I certainly had no idea, sitting in that chair, what my future held. I actually thought the worst was behind me. Ha! It was only the beginning of an odyssey into the world of mental illness.

It came, as all disease does, unbidden and unexpected. I kept it hidden, or at least I tried, in order to appear “normal.” Stigma is real and I feared discrimination in the workplace and in my daily life. I have seen an amazing change in the thirty years I’ve been immersed in the receiving end of mental health care. But there’s a lot further we need to go. I would urge anyone who is suffering in silence, for fear of being labeled or judged, to find the courage to seek help.

It’s taken me a long time to embrace my diagnosis. I want to live my life truthfully and unencumbered by the shame that seems to accompany mental illness. It’s time.

~CBD