Right before my wedding, I talked to an aunt that I hadn't seen in quite a while. She was recently in the hospital, but hoping to leave soon. She initially called and left a voicemail saying that she couldn't come to my wedding, but wanted to catch up and give me a present. I talked with her a few days later via phone. She sounded fine--even making a joke about watching Tom Selleck on TV in her hospital room. Though tired, she sounded like her old humorous self.
She was one of my mother's best friends growing up. People in our family always said she looked like a model, and she'd had an incredible career. She'd lived in San Francisco for the first period of her adult life and later, joined the Peace Corps, where she met her husband from Bulgaria.
Not long after the wedding, I got a text from my mother saying that she had died. And that there would not be a funeral for her... that her husband was just taking her ashes back to Bulgaria with him. That was it.
Lately, I've been thinking about my family, and the ways experiences shape our lives--for better and for worse. About all the things that influence us, and about how time goes so fast, especially as you get older and focus more on your own family and career. About how the world around you can start to slowly disappear.
I don't want that to ever happen. I always want to make time for the important people in my life. It's just that I always think there's more time and there just isn't...
I bring this up here in a way because, partly due to my work as a teacher but also, partly due to rejection, I'm just not getting as much material out as I'd like to these days. And I remember when I was young, I didn't care about the quality of my work as much; just seeing my name online or in print was what was important. Getting it out as fast as possible was what was important. And maybe there was something better about that. Maybe my work was genuinely better or maybe there was something special about being so fearless.
But these days, I'm more interested in the quality of the piece; taking time to work on something, even if it's ultimately rejected. It's just more important to me than throwing crap out there to see if it sticks.
I remember seeing relatives when I was a little kid, as far back as 7 or 8 years old. I could be such a brat about it. I don't really remember my hobbies back then. Perhaps playing with POGs or watching cartoons, but I genuinely didn't care about seeing somebody unless some sort of 'reward' was involved. I was spoiled. I didn't understand the complexity of relationships.
The same could be said of early experiences in my writing career--particularly with journalism. I turned in work late. I got into arguments with TA's. I rejected any type of criticism. I didn't study. I genuinely didn't care. I even wondered if I wanted to do it. I really cared more about extracurricular activities and having a boyfriend.
I really admire this quote by Maya Angelo.
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
I wish I could have been different when I was younger with some older relatives that have gone. I can't just chalk all of it up to maturity. But also with writing, there's some garbage out there with my name on it for sure; just some ordinary work, a couple of sentences strung together, blah.
People don't remember someone's work just because it's published or because their byline is on it. They remember it because it gave them goosebumps. It made them think. (And no. I'm not talking about an opinion piece.) Regular news can do that, if you write it right.
I spent a lot of time recently researching ghost stories at Jefferson Barracks. Unfortunately, the story was scrapped by my editor. In the past, I would have been devastated, thinking how I spent an hour interviewing someone and then half a day writing it. It's just not my personality anymore.
She offered me a new story to write (similar idea), which gives me a whole new place to research. I am excited about it. Ultimately, everything is really a learning experience. The same is spending time with a loved one or friend or stranger, even if it's not ultimately something you want to do. (These could potentially lead to a story, too.)
An article by Amanda Ernst in MediaBistro ranks people as the number one source for finding story ideas.
"Keep a notebook with you to jot down notes and ideas after you leave parties, or store notes on your phone, so you don’t forget before you wake up the next day," writes Ernst in the article "8 Places to Find Your Next Story."
My mom received the card from my aunt Donna, the gift, which her husband Nick sent. I still haven't opened it.
Donna was a very special person. She was very funny in a very witty way. I always felt like we clicked. She'd spent a lot of time with me as a baby. I think about her every day.
I guess there's no way to know about anything really. About how much time someone has, yourself included. But making people feel special is what's important during the time you do spend together.
And with that, if you do enjoy writing, enough--whether it's news or writing a short story--or both--that you take enough time, you feel, to put that effort into it to make it special. So that it influences someone or changes their day--maybe even their life--for the better.