Who are you?

I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t know how to behave when I’m not on deadline. For the past 18 months, I have been under nearly constant pressure to write one novel or another, and then suddenly, come May, I…wasn’t. It feels a bit like that scene in “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy is up in the house, flying around and screaming, and then the house lands with a gentle thud, and all Dorothy says is, “Oh.”

Oh.

To be truthful, I’m supposed to be writing a short story for an anthology. But there’s something about having to write an entire story in only 20 pages or less fills me with cold, slick fear. It’s a challenge for me. I’m not usually known for being concise. 🙂 Fortunately, Holly Black and David Levithan have given me some excellent pointers, and I am eternally grateful for knowing such smart writers. I’m still not writing the story yet, just in case you were wondering. Come June, a time when I am so busy I won’t have time to do much more than look perpetually startled, I’ll feel the pressure and start, I suppose. I thought I’d outgrow that tendency to write the term paper the night before it’s do. Apparently not.

So what have I done with myself lately? Visited Target. (Towels, on sale.) Went with my kid’s first grade class on trips to Central Park Zoo and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and managed not to lose any of the children assigned to me. Purged the closets. Framed and hung Josh’s fabu art work. Saw friends. Drank coffee. Downloaded from iTunes. Read. Is that it? Seems like there should be more.

I had a great serendipity day with Josh this week. I took him in to the city for a dentist appt. It was one of those beautiful, sunny NYC days–blue skies and 70 degrees. We brought the digital camera and Josh took tons of pictures of squirrels doing their Noble Squirrel poses. He took 296 pix by my last count. (Not all of squirrels, thankfully.) A lot of them are really amazing (sorry, Mom brag moment). We laughed and ate ice cream and watched this guy do a magic show in Washington Square Park complete with fire juggling. Then Josh played chess with one of the pros who are always hanging out at the little chess tables. We ate dinner and wandered around by Carmine Street and talked to a guy who was passing out postcards for this cool-sounding documentary called “Roadtrip Nation” that’s debuting on PBS on May 22nd. It’s described on the postcard as a show about students “who hit the road to interview individuals who defined their own paths in life.” The postcard says this: “Define your own road in life instead of traveling down someone else’s. Listen to yourself. Your road is the Open Road. Find it.”

I liked that. Usually, that would be the cynical marketing slogan for a soft drink, but here, I think it’s sincere. I liked it because I often struggle with that, because I have often felt that I didn’t fit in. And I don’t mean that in a snarky, too-cool-for-school, stand alone (adopt sardonic tone) “Dude, I’m an anarchist.” (Although I have on occasion rolled my eyes and crossed my arms in just such a stance…) No, I mean more of an earnest, searching, wistful feel. A “Wow, you guys look like you got the manual and know EXACTLY what you’re supposed to be doing and know that it’s all going to be okay, but, um, I’m just trying to figure this thing out as I go along, and frankly, I screw up. A lot.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about identity and individuality lately in conjunction with my current manuscript. Maybe it’s because we live in such an image-conscious society, a society that seems to buy and sell happiness as a necessary consumer good. And who can possibly be all that you can be all the damn time? That’s exhausting. To me, anyway. Maybe it’s because it seems like we’re being asked more and more to narrowly define ourselves by a series of checks in boxes from Column A and Column B, and what happens if you can’t neatly check off any of those boxes? What happens if you’re an outside the box kind of person? And is anybody really an inside the box person?

Maybe that’s why I often feel uncomfortable when I’m asked to speak at a conference or teach what I do. I look out at that sea of people and want to say softly into the mic: “People, I don’t have a freakin’ clue. I just write what I can’t seem to hold back anymore. And then I look at it and try to make it as true as I possibly can. Thanks. And enjoy the cheese danish.”

I guess, for now, I’m just trying to find a way to live more fully inside of myself. To know that it’s okay not to be who I am, which, it turns out, is pretty messy a lot of the time. Yeah. Individuality. What a great concept. I’m looking forward to seeing that show.

I hope today you will do one or two things that feel true to who you are. Make some art. Write a poem. Dance in your underwear. Spend the time at your cousin’s wedding imagining that you are a Kung Fu Guitar God Makeup Artist about to bust a move down the aisle. (Oh. Sorry. My fantasy. Ignore that.) Feel sad if you need to. Eat cereal for dinner. Leave the boxes unchecked. The world will survive.

65 thoughts on “Who are you?

  1. clever and witty remark

    Not really.
    Gawd, I cant wait till the 23 of August.
    I just finished reading through your lovely novel for the first time (one of many to come I assure you)
    So when my boss calls you to rip you a new one just remember i was up so late because your book is just to damn good to put down.
    Oh and don’t worry about Renee (boss lady) she’s pretty chill once you get to know her

  2. Re: Just wanted to say…

    wow, I know EXACTLY what you mean.

    I haven’t really written anything good in about a year, and it HURTS. It literally hurts.

  3. First of all, I’d like to say that I realy like “A Great and Terrible Beauty”, and I can’t wait to read “Rebel Angels”. You’re very talented, and I was enthralled by “Beauty” immediately. I also really like your website and your journal here. I really loved reading your playlist for “Beauty”, because it made me a feel a bit less insane about my practice of sitting in a pool of CDs, trying to find the perfect song for whatever protagonist is first and foremost on my mind (not an easy task for me, though I’m of the belief that there is at least one song for every character and/or story). I hope you continue writing in this LJ, since it’s very interesting, and it encourages me to actually write in mine.

    I just wanted to say hi, and thank you for sharing you wonderful story of Gemma Doyle with the masses.

  4. okay,well, i must admit that i acctually didnt read much of that entry!i happen to be a big fan of your book A Great And Terrible Beauty.and i must ask-will kartik and gemma acctually kiss for real in the second book?and will gemma take ann and felicity back into the realms??and(yes another one!)when will the second one come out???im dying to read it!!!!

    anyway,i totally love your book!!!!!

  5. I finished a Great and Terrible Beauty about a day ago. I was reading deep into the night and was very tired from reading your book in one sitting (I just couldn’t put the book down) or I would of came and looked into this website link earlier. It was a great book, and I am not just saying the generic “oh that was great”. I am saying the word “great” because the other words out there seem to loud and colorful for a book that deserves respect. Respect for the insight it brought me, and for the world it took me into. Every main character in the book went on her own journey and they inspired me. I tend, even though I live in the 21 century, to feel as your characters did at times.I feel as though I want to be somewhere else, to actually be loved for who I am, and that I am not beautiful in the plain sense of the word, but in my own way. The last passage of the book made me think. Gemma wasn’t running away, she was just seeing how far she could get before she had to stop. I hope I have the nerve enough on day to do that.

  6. Wow,um *clears throat*
    Seems that most commenters are more preoccupied with your book than your journal. O_o
    Deadlines freak me out, I just seem to do better stuff on my own time than anything else.
    So Im not sure how thats going to work out when I have 45 minutes to do some acceptable artwork without killing what brain cells I have left in my head.

  7. Hi. just found your LJ, but from what I have read so far, I think I like you. You sort of remind me of me. You can be completely random at one moment, and then be really serious and philosophical the next. I’m going to add you to my friends list if you dont mind.

  8. I?

    I love your book(s)especially A Great And Terrible Beauty (the one I’m reading).But I don’t understand them.Can you (EXPLAIN) Please?

  9. IS there a third book out yet? I definetly say i have a crush on simon and i would have married him if i were gemma and i really want to go into the relems now…you have me obsessed.
    The books were so good i cant wait to read the next one.

  10. please read Mrs. Bray

    hello,

    My name is T’Arah J. Craig and I know this is totally of the map of what you have just written but I am an actress who keeps re-reading your novels and wondering, ‘when will a movie be made out of this?’. I hope that someday it will be possible for that to happen(a movie made, I mean). If this ever does happen, it would be amazingly kind of you to send a message of audition dates to all your fans. I wish to end on a good note but none comes to mind so all I can say is a simple thank you.

    sincerely,

    T’Arah Julita Craig

  11. I love your books! please write back to tell me if you are going to make another book acomping great and terrible beauty and rebel angels. If I ever become a director you and I should make your books into a movie. {it would be the best movie}please email at f355@cox.net

  12. Your Books

    Oh my goodness! I can’t belive im actually writing! I really love your books!(the Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel angels!) wait does Liba actually read these? well there so well written and i really LOVE them and my friends think im insane cause i read your book, Rebel Angels in A day and 1/2. I can really picture everything you write and i feel like im actually there inside the book. i know it sounds sooo nerdy but i do. I really love to read now, when i was smaller i used to hate to read and it would take forever to read one book but now that i’ve started i cant stop! Im even writing a story with my best friend, its really hard to work together on a book you really have to know exactly what each other means. We have to work out the bumps and stuff. But i really Love your books and you inspired me to write and read more.

    P.S. are you going to write another book?

  13. Your Books

    Oh my goodness! I can’t belive im actually writing! I really love your books!(the Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel angels!) wait does Liba actually read these? well there so well written and i really LOVE them and my friends think im insane cause i read your book, Rebel Angels in A day and 1/2. I can really picture everything you write and i feel like im actually there inside the book. i know it sounds sooo nerdy but i do. I really love to read now, when i was smaller i used to hate to read and it would take forever to read one book but now that i’ve started i cant stop! Im even writing a story with my best friend, its really hard to work together on a book you really have to know exactly what each other means. We have to work out the bumps and stuff. But i really Love your books and you inspired me to write and read more.

    P.S. are you going to write another book?
    e-mail me at tigergrl34yournice@hotmail.com

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