The Ugly Baby

I recently attended my second SCBWI Conference in Winchester. I don’t really need an excuse to travel to Winchester. It must be one of the most charming, beautiful, inspirational towns I’ve ever been to. Winchester is a medieval paradise. My cousin-in-law’s husband was telling me how they churned up some ancients bits of pottery when they were reworking their garden. Nothing that was recognizable as an urn or anything like that, but still, it was all very ancient.

This ancient atmosphere stirs something inside of me. Maybe it’s the tumble-down castle that you can walk through. Maybe it’s the understated portal at the edge of town that let’s you know that you are entering a different time and space, even if you can (unfortunately) see the golden arches sign looming in the background.

On the Saturday Eve of the conference, we were all invited to a gala event at the Guildhall. Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful. I mixed and mingled with publisher, agents, published authors and, a term a learned that evening, pre-published authors. I was told that I can consider myself part of the latter category. Very exciting on paper. Scary in reality.

I had charming conversations with some of the freshly published authors. Not one of them said that it was their first book written that was  being published. I found that interesting. A publisher confirmed what I was hearing. It was one woman’s 11th book that was her first published. I asked what had happened to the other ones. She told me and a new acquaintance, J., that she still had them and hoped one day to dust off her Babies and have them published.

J. and I talked about this astonishing 11th book fact on the way back to our hotel. Then she said something interesting: “I’ve been told that my baby is ugly.” I knew instantly what she meant. A writer’s Baby is that first idea, that first ‘Once Upon a Time’ that is written down or hacked into the computer. It is your dream and you just know that this will be the one story that the world has been waiting on. Reality often looks different, though. That first book is often The Ugly Baby. It is an attempt at learning your craft. It is a confusion of every idea you’ve ever had mixed with everything you like and dislike in everything you’ve ever read.

It’s hard to accept that one’s work might be The Ugly Baby. After all, every child is beautiful and special in it’s own way. It’s not uncommon for writers to go back to rejected work and find an audience after they make a name for themselves. I don’t know whether my Baby is The Ugly Baby or not, but even if it is, I know that there still might be hope, but I also have the strength to be able to let it go.

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Be proud of your heritage

This week during my child’s sport training, a little girl about 9 years old slowly walked up to me. I’ve seen her at training for the past 6 months, but she’s never spoken to me and I’ve never spoken to her. I don’t think she knew that I could speak German. The parents and children at this training are very international which leads us to use English as our common language.

Out of nowhere, this little girl asked me in German where I was from after she heard me speaking to the trainer in German. I told her. She asked if I was born in Germany. I told her no that I had learned German many years ago from living in Germany and studying German. She looked confused.

In return, I asked her where she was from. She was obviously not of German heritage. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “Ich bin Deutscher.” I asked her if she was born here and she said yes. She then asked me what my son was. I told her half German and half American. She repeated again that she was a German. I asked her where her parents were from. The smile left her face as she told me that her parents were Turkish. She said her parents couldn’t speak German and asked me why I could if I wasn’t born there. She continued by saying that she didn’t want to be Turkish, but rather German.

Without going into a long dialog that she wouldn’t understand, I tried to explain to her that we cannot choose who we are. We are born as we are and we should be proud of our heritage. She shook her head and said that it wasn’t good to be Turkish. She was ashamed to be herself. I had to control myself not to cry in front of this child who was so sure that being a German was better than being Turkish.

I hope my son grows up being proud of who he is and doesn’t want to rather be someone he isn’t. I hope our family and society gives him what he needs to be proud of his heritage.

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My commitments for 2013

These commitments are not to be confused with New Year’s Resolutions. My long term goals and commitments are clear in my head. It’s the short-term commitments that suffer under day-to-day activities. I’m probably one of the few people on this planet that do not believe in stress – positive or negative. Our lives are what they are and we have to learn to deal with it the best we can.

My commitments:

1. Spending even more quality time with my loved ones and friends.

2. Spending more quality time with ME!

3. Completing draft 2 of my book by 15 March 2013!

4. Writing on my blog every Friday.

5.  Traveling to a country that I never thought I would go to.

6. Working with a non-profit organization.

7. Submitting my short stories to several publishers.

There you have it. Not world shaking, but a start. Let’s see what gets added to that list as the year goes on. Here’s a first view of one of the commitments.

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But I don’t want to give too much away!

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I’m me.

A dear friend reminded me today of how good it is to stay true to yourself and to rejoice in what makes you you. That’s not saying that there’s never room for improvement. Everyone has room for improvement. Everyone. Really. It’s so easy to want to change for others so that they will like you more or accept you into their fold. But the truth is, if they can’t deal with the real you, then they don’t need to deal with you at all.

How wonderful it is that no two people are alike? How boring would the world be if we all had the same propensities? And how sad a world it would be if we couldn’t accept and love people for who they are, whether they are ‘perfect’ or not.

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Trying to be polite in a world that isn’t always

I remember a visit from my mother to Germany some 12 years ago. After surviving the trip down the autobahn with me at the wheel (we made a deal that my car was not to drive faster than 140 km/h with her in it), I thought all would be good. Wrong. This is the conversation we had as we entered my neighborhood.

(My mother was looking uncomfortable)

Me: What’s wrong?

Mother: Are you sure this is a street?

Me: What? (confusion written all over my face)

Mother: This street. It’s no wider than an alleyway.

Me: It’s a normal street in a normal German town, mother. You know that.

Mother: Oh.

(10 seconds of silence)

Mother: Watch out!

(My mother puts on her passenger breaks and grabs the imaginary roller coaster bar on the dashboard. We were only driving 30 km/h).

Me: What’s wrong now? (distracted)

Mother: We’re driving down a one way street! (panic in her voice)

Me: I’ve lived here for a while and I’ve never noticed that it was a one-way street. (irritation in my voice)

Mother: Well, it must be a one-way street. There’s another car right in front of us trying to get down the same street.

Me: Ah, a game of chicken.

Mother: What? (beads of sweat forming on her forehead)

Me: Just joking. I’ll pull over a bit and they can squeeze by. (trying to hide a Cheshire cat grin)

Mother: Wouldn’t it be better to go the right direction the next time? (eyebrow raised)

Me: Mother, it is a two-way street. I’m not breaking any rules. (eyebrow raised above hairline accompanied by a heavy sigh)

Mother: Oh. (Even heavier sigh)

(The car driving by waves in gratitude for letting him pass. I wave back.)

Mother: Did you know them?

Me: No. That’s what you do when someone let’s you pass. (Sigh)

Mother: Oh. (Holds her purse tighter on her lap and pretends to enjoy the view out of the window.) 

Today, I was out with a friend and we had a similar situation (except my friend was not the least bit nervous about my driving skills and never questioned the direction of my driving as it was her street we were pulling into). I pulled to the side and flashed for the driver of a plum-colored Mercedes to go first. And drive by she did without any acknowledgement that a nicety had been done for her. Not a big one. But a courteous one still.

It’s hard to be polite in a world that isn’t always polite in return, but do it anyway!

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Heidelberg Christmas market

While America was celebrating Thanksgiving, Heidelberg was ringing in the holiday season with Glühwein, Frikadelle Brötchen, Saumagen, Magenbrot, Lebkuchen, Crêpes, Schweinesteak mit Zwiebeln, Currywurst and gebrannte Mandeln. Now, I could translate all of that, but half of it wouldn’t sound very appetizing in English. I will have to ask you to trust me that these are all yummy things that should be tried and eaten at least once at a German Christmas market.

Heidelberg beat everyone to the start this year. I can usually enjoy my Thanksgiving dinner before the ho-ho-ho assault begins. Before you know it, chocolate Easter bunnies will be delivered sitting on a sleigh, with flexible ears that can morph into a beard and sack.

Nevertheless, we had our first visit to the Christmas market on November 22nd. It was actually very nice. We indulged in oversized fatty sausages and topped it off with cinnamon and sugar crêpes. It was cold enough to enjoy a nice hot cup of kiddie punsch (the non-alcoholic children’s version of a mulled wine), but not so cold that we had to seek refuge in a café to warm our extremities. It’s nice to get the season kicked off so nicely.

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A beautiful night view of the Heidelberg main street close to the Heiliggeistkirche.

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Tippy toes strikes again!

When I was in junior high school, I attempted to play basketball. I didn’t even have to try out for the team. The coach took one look at me and said, “You’re on the team!” If only she had let me try out, it would have saved all of us immense embarrassment. I am tall and have legs and a neck that a giraffe would be envious of. And, it hurts to write it, I am African-American. 

My coach saw all of her dreams coming true. We would make it to the county playoffs (went to school in Wheeling Illinois ) and then on to local and then regional and maybe even state. I was the only black girl on the team. Wait, I was the only black girl playing in that district!

After the first practice, my coach knew that she had made a mistake. First, I have exercise induced asthma (“If you make me do sports, I will have a Kreislauf problem!”). I didn’t know it beforehand, but one trip across the basketball floor and doing bleacher runs told me that my lungs were not amused at what I was putting them through. Second, I am not the most coordinated person and I am ever so slightly ditzy. However, my coach took on the challenge. She was convinced that there was a svelte lioness hidden under that maroon and gold gym outfit. How wrong she was! Disaster struck as early as our first game. I officially received the nickname tippy toes.

If you know the rules of basketball, you are not allowed to move both of your feet at the same time if you are holding the ball. It’s call traveling. My team called it tippy toes on the move. To my dismay, my moves were even caught on film once. That was when I decided that I wanted to be a dancer! With moves like that, I was sure I would sweep the ballet world. Did I already mention that I am really tall and that ballerinas aren’t? Since this blog is not entitled dancing with the stars, you can figure what became of that dream. 

Today, however, I am quite proud of my tippy toe moves. During my third tennis lesson this morning, I was able to put them to use and was even encouraged to do so by my instructor. Freedom at last! My feet can move and do what they want without being ridiculed or told to settle down. My instructor calls it my Elvis moves. I prefer to be nostalgic. I am, and will always be, tippy toes.

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