Thursday, December 12, 2013

This is to remind me


Dear Brenda,
The next time you finish a draft of a novel and you give it to your critique group, please remember:
1. They are not going to tell you it's perfect. They are smarter and more helpful than that. 
2. You are going to need some time to digest what they've said. Give yourself that time. 
3. It's okay to cry.
4. It's okay to quit.
5. It's okay to bake a lot, or clean your closets, or do other things that have simple beginnings, middles, and ends. 
6. It's okay to consider getting a regular job with a regular paycheck and regular hours. Seriously, if you can find a job that fulfills you half as much as writing, go for it.
7. After you're finished with your initial response of, "I suck and I'll never be published again," you should probably re-read Truby or Klein or one of the other fabulous books on writing and revising that are sitting on your bookshelf.
8. You should take notes and open your mind as you read.
9. You should go on a lot of walks and take long showers because that's when your best ideas arrive.
10. You should open a new file on your computer and jot down all the crazy and fresh ideas that are zipping around your brain. 
11. You should formulate those ideas into a plan. 
12. You should write another draft of your novel.
13. You should give it to your critique group or your agent or your editor, and you should be ready to start all over again, getting closer and closer to the truth of the story. 
That's all there is to it.  
Ha! 
Love, Brenda

Monday, August 26, 2013

No Bitter, All Sweet: A Different View of the College Send-off


Last week, my twins headed to college – one in Washington D.C. and one in Bloomington, Indiana. My friends are calling, e-mailing, stopping me in the grocery store. “Are you okay?” they ask, eyes wide with concern in the middle of the cereal aisle. I know what’s expected of me. I’m supposed to miss my kids. I’m supposed to grieve the loss of this stage in my life. Everywhere I look, people are writing and talking about this difficult transition. In The Washington Post, Michael Gerson went so far as to say this about sending his youngest child to college: “He has a wonderful future in which my part naturally diminishes. I have no possible future that is better without him close.” 

Seriously?? Sorry Michael, sorry friends, sorry kids, but I am just not there.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my children like crazy. But letting go of them is not only easy for me, it’s delightful. I’ve got nothing but joy and hope for the future - both theirs and mine. Which makes me wonder… Is there something wrong with me? Where are my tears? Where is my wistful reminiscence?  Where is my longing for more time with my kids?  

I could blame my father. He often told me, “A parent’s job is to give their children roots and wings,” and, “Kids are only yours to borrow.” Was this advice born from his own sense of loss when my siblings and I grew up and flew from our nest? Perhaps. But his wisdom seeped into my bones, and I always knew the hands-on parenting phase of life was temporary. That knowledge didn’t keep me from being 100% invested in motherhood. It kept me sane, especially when I had three kids needing three different things at the exact same time.

I blame my husband, too. He’s the one who insisted we go out every Saturday night, even when we could barely afford a babysitter. We stayed connected, so now, as I look to the future with this guy I married 23 years ago, I’m not looking at a stranger. I’m not afraid that once the kids are gone our marriage will disappear, too. In fact, it’s the opposite. We are going to have a blast.

I might as well blame my parents and siblings while I'm at it, who’ve made me realize that when you grow up, you can have as close a relationship as you want with your original family. It's just not mandatory.

And friends, even the ones who are weeping into their tissues as they handle the college transition in a way that’s right for them, get their share of the blame, also. If not for them, I might have been the kind of mom who befriends her kids or her kids’ friends. But I haven’t needed or wanted that because my own friends make my life rich and full and funny and interesting.    

You know, now that I think about it, I've got to give a little blame to my kids themselves. After all, they’re the ones who matured into young adults whom I trust enough to send off into the wild blue yonder. Not that I don’t expect some shenanigans in college. I just expect them to deal with it.

But enough pointing fingers. It’s only fair that I look inward and blame myself. First off, I’m the wacky person who got the word OPTMST on her license plate to remind me every day to choose optimism. So yeah, maybe I do look on the bright side of most situations. At the same time, I’ve sort of been obsessed with endings and loss and change my whole life. My mom often accused me of being morbid, but I was processing the fact that life always, no matter what, ends with death. Okay, that might be obvious, but really, when you fully embrace that idea, you are suddenly free to appreciate the beauty of life with all its ups and downs and changes. At least that’s what happened for me. Optimism and death - you wouldn't think those two things go together, but they do. 

My daughter filled our home with stories, emotions, drama, and love. My son filled it with humor, wit, mystery, and a quiet sense of confidence. All they gave to me is here, inside me. Their leaving doesn’t change that, it just expands as they share themselves with new people and new places. Their adult lives are beginning, and I’m the lucky one who gets to watch from the sidelines. I will be their biggest fans. And I am just a phone call away if they need me. 

I have one more child at home, a senior in high school. Maybe I’ll feel differently next year when he heads off to college, but I wouldn’t bet on it. This is what we hope for, isn’t it? To raise our children to leave us. To be well-adjusted adults. To discover their passions and work hard to make their dreams come true.

I can’t be the only mom who is jumping for joy as she witnesses her children leave the nest. The shame I feel at the grocery store when I don’t have the expected reaction is not actually shame. It’s more the uncomfortable feeling you get when living authentically makes you different from your friends. I think, maybe, there’s nothing wrong with me. Maybe I’m saying what lots of people are feeling but are afraid to admit. But I will shout it from the rafters, and I invite you to join me. Go on kids, create your lives. I will cheer you on while I continue to create mine. 

Monday, June 03, 2013

Anthem to the Outcast in All of Us


Every senior at our high school is invited to write a commencement speech. The following speech was written by my daughter. It wasn't chosen to be delivered, but the selection committee wished for it to be shared, so they printed it in the school newspaper. I'm incredibly proud of Faith for writing with such courage and candor about her experience being an outcast in high school. If this resonates with you, please share it. Faith and I would love for her speech to find as large an audience as possible. Thanks!

So, without further ado, I present "Anthem to the Outcast in All of Us" by Faith Ferber

I am a loser.

No, really. I’m the kid who had nobody to sit with in the caf. The one who cringed when teachers told us to find a partner. I knew I’d be last picked. I can count on one hand the number of people who were genuinely kind to me from 8:10 to 3:14 each day. Everyone knows Deerfield High School has some of the best academics in the country, but I’ve learned more from my experience of being a loser than I have from any class I’ve taken. This is not a speech of self-pity. This is an anthem to the outcasts, an anthem to the future challenges we face and the resilient nature I hope you all will carry with you.

If you can’t already relate to my story, you probably will be able to some day. The truth is, no matter how popular or pretty or athletic or talented you seem, none of us are immune from becoming a loser. We will all, at one point or another, worry we won’t fit in. Perhaps you won't get into a sorority. Or you could get fired from your job. And if statistics mean anything, half of us will end up divorced. If by chance you get through all of that without feeling like a loser, I’m pretty sure we can agree that your future kids will let you know just how uncool you really are. But here’s the thing: being a loser makes us human. It teaches us resilience. It forces us to develop self-esteem. And most importantly, I hope it empowers us to be kind.

I am as extroverted as they come. Having nowhere to sit at lunch and no one to spend my free periods with was a terrifying experience for someone who thrives off of social interaction. Instead of letting those roadblocks cripple me, I used them to my advantage. I spent every lunch in the College and Career Resource Center, where I can now confidently say I know enough about college to work next to Ms. Hinden. I spent my free periods in Mrs. Halpern’s room getting my homework done. Despite the social challenges I faced, I never gave up, and because of that, I opened myself up to bigger and better experiences. Who knew I could get straight A’s if I just actually did my homework? I even fostered new relationships with my parents, whom I realized really aren’t as lame as I once thought.

As we move on to a post-high school world, hurdles are inevitable. We can choose to be afraid, turn around and walk back to the start line, or we can jump the hurdle and make our way to the end. I encourage you all to jump. It will be scary. Your foot may even get caught on the hurdle as you tumble over. That’s okay. We are all capable of picking ourselves up and moving on. If I had chosen to surrender, I would have nothing important to say here.

In a generation of multi-taskers, we often try to accomplish things as fast as possible, lacking precision in the process. We have learned that “good enough” is acceptable. As a high school student, I frequently hear people rushing their thoughts, caring more about what they want to say than what they are saying. You are not “literally” dying, and I sincerely hope your parents aren’t “literally” going to kill you when you come home with that speeding ticket. And although the incorrect usage of this word is annoying, I have noticed another word that I find much more disheartening when improperly used. That word is self-esteem. The key word is self. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “So-and-so has a crush on my friend and not me. It totally killed my self-esteem.” Confidence comes from within. We are told this constantly, but I, at least, did not fully understand it until I became a grade-A loser. When you don’t have friends and it seems as if you must really not be as cool as you think you are, it’s natural to start feeling bad. That is why I have come up with a quick trick to remind myself of my own worth. When I’m feeling like I’m a terrible person, I stop, take a deep breath, and say two things I like about myself. It can be external, like an earlobe, or internal, like my compassion towards others. I’ve learned that just naming two qualities truly helps my self-esteem. Because how can you feel worthless when you have such a gorgeous earlobe? Seriously though, because this exercise is focused on crediting your own value, I believe it boosts your confidence levels in a much stronger way than having someone else validate you as a human being. And interestingly enough, once you get used to feeling good about two parts of yourself, it gets easier to feel good about more and more until you truly love yourself, even with love handles, a big nose, or ears that stick out. In college, our self-confidence will be tested and scrutinized. Will you conform to what others want you to be? Or will you stay true to yourself, stay true to the two parts you name, and show others what self-esteem really looks like?

In late March and early April, two suicides at nearby schools hit many of us hard. We wore yellow to raise awareness. We posted Facebook statuses about kindness, understanding the simple healing power we possessed. And for a few days, people thought twice before picking on the loser. Shortly after, the bombings at the Boston marathon demonstrated how quickly our lives can be turned upside down. We encouraged each other to be the best person we know how to be because life is short. But how quickly will we forget the lessons of these tragedies?

I write these words with the knowledge of what it means to be on the other side of the story. Many of you know that I used to be a bully. Not like in the movies. I didn’t shove kids into lockers or steal their lunch money. I was a North Shore bully. I beat people with my words. I demeaned people with my indifference. I used to believe that being mean to the losers was fine because that’s what they were used to. It took me many years to realize how painful that kind of bullying is for both the victims and the perpetrators. I wish I could go back in time and act differently. I would reach out to the bullied, the kids sitting alone at lunch or standing in the corner at recess. I would prove to people that being kind is cooler than being a bully. I cannot change my actions in the past, but I have control over my future. I have control over now. I’m so sorry to those I have hurt.

Being a loser has taught me how truly incredible kindness is. I have learned that there is a difference between being kind and not being mean. The majority of you have not been mean to me. I appreciate this, I truly do. But most of my peers ignored my presence altogether. For the handful of you who have been kind, you are truly wonderful. Thank you for encouraging me to apply for a job at your workplace. Thank you for enthusiastically shouting out my name in the hallway. Thank you for asking me if I wanted to study with you. We are all aware of the Golden Rule. It’s time to follow through. It’s okay to smile at the loser. Remember, you are or will be a loser, too. The bystander effect is an extremely dangerous part of our society. It has taught us to believe that we do not need to have that extra ounce of courage, we do not need to put ourselves out there in order to help others. We tell ourselves someone else will do it. When everyone feels they are not responsible, we all become responsible for the ensuing damage. Be the person who takes a stand. Be the person who can walk away with no regrets, who can walk away knowing they made someone’s day better. Small acts of kindness can make an incredible impact.

Being a loser has not been easy. If I could do it all over again, I definitely wouldn’t But I am thankful for the lessons I have learned. As an outcast at Deerfield High School, I have been shoved into the face of reality, and I have come out on the other side ready to take on the world with resiliency, confidence, and kindness.
Faith with two of the kids who were genuinely kind to her this year. 


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ideas

Everyone always wants to know where writers get their ideas. But I have to tell you... that's the wrong question to be asking. Truth is, ideas are everywhere all the time, free for the taking. But those ideas are just ideas. You can't copyright an idea for a very good reason. It's nothing until you shape it into something tangible. The question people should be asking is, "How do you recognize if an idea is worthwhile?"

For me, it's all about the sense I have that this idea must already exist. It's so good that it must already be part of the world. Along with that comes a feeling of urgency because if the idea hasn't already been developed, it certainly will be soon. And also, if I thought of it, someone else (who is of course a better and faster writer than me) will think of it, too.

So there you have it, the foolproof way of figuring out if an idea is worth pursuing or not. Equal parts excitement, urgency and insecurity.



Saturday, March 02, 2013

What's up?

Lots has been happening in the Ferber house lately. My daughter figured out where she'll be going to college next year! Go Faith!
Jacob, always the prankster, did this when I thought he was shoveling a path in the backyard for our sweet dog.
I'm going to miss his sense of humor next year when he goes to college. (Still not sure where that will be.)

Sammy has been playing The Wolf and Cinderella's Prince in Into the Woods at Wilmette Theater. Tickets are still available for next weekend. I saw the show this morning and loved it!
Here's Sammy as Prince Charming greeting a special fan after the show. 

And I went to the Arctic for a writing retreat. Actually, we were just in western Michigan. It was awesome!!
That's me looking out over Lake Michigan (Photo creds: Carolyn Crimi)

Life's been busy and fun. What's up with you?