Rigorous Honesty is Risky Business

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By:  Jana Greene

Risking.

This morning, I was at a loss at what to write about.  I’ve had a headache pretty steadily for nearly a week solid, and have a busy schedule today, and these two conspired against my wanting to write at all.  But still….

Under my desk is a big cardboard box full of writings; articles, poetry and general musings about life, some of it going back to high school.  This is my sad attempt at organization…throwing things into a box, so that the oldest pieces end up on the bottom, and the most recent on top, like layers of sedimentary rock.

So, I consult The Box this morning for writing ideas, digging down a few layers.  Somewhere in between the top (which is from yesterday) and the bottom (the Jurassic period when the dinosaurs roamed the earth – known to my children as “the 80’s”) I found a single manila folder.  Everything else in the box, at least seven inches deep, is thrown in willy-nilly.  The folder is named simply:  “The Bad Years”

Immediately, I knew which era was chronicled in this layer:  The later stages of my disease, and most likely, the very early stages of recovery.

I am an alcoholic.  The Bad years, I have had.

I flip through the pages, and catch words like:  drunken, AA, lying, puking, embarrassment, shame and rejection…..words I don’t necessarily associate my “now” life with, but words that have been my life at other times.   And no matter how hard I try, I cannot shake the feeling that I am supposed to write about the experience.  Trust me, I’ve tried to shake the feeling.

More than a feeling, it is (dare I use the term?) calling.  At the end of the day, I just cannot imagine that we must endure the really difficult things in life alone.  What is the point of coming out on the ‘other side’ of something horrible if you keep it to yourself?

But writing about it is going to require what 12-step programs refer to as “rigorous honesty”.  In my interpretation, rigorous honesty is different from regular honesty in that it is subject to the sin of omission tenfold.  Writing about my journey is going to require including the words:  drunken, AA, lying, puking, embarrassment, shame and rejection – and that’s just for starters.

I pray about it often, asking God about what to include in a book, if I were to write one.  I tell Him that I don’t want to embarrass myself, but I know it’s a little late for that consideration.   I try to tell Him that I don’t have the time/money/confidence/smarts to write a book.  I think He is telling me that I don’t need those things to write my story.  What I need is faith in Him.  Period.

He reminds me that I still have tons of issues, in my “now” life, and that I get through them One Day at a Time the same way He got me through The Bad Years….with grace.

He is enough to save my life.  He is more than enough to handle the seven inches of literary sediment in a cardboard box.    I cannot undo my past, but I can write about my redemption so that maybe someone somewhere will know that they can survive The Bad Years.

Grace really is amazing.

 

**This piece originally appeared in The Beggars Bakery in 2012. The book has indeed been written. It is EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love, which published in 2014. It is available on Amazon now, and you can purchase it by visiting this link: http://tinyurl.com/klmtegk.

Viral Spiral: A dozen thoughts on ‘going viral’

long-spiral-staircase

By: Jana Greene

In 2014, I received a totally unexpected gift. In February, I wrote a blog post that truly went “viral.” My blog had been up and running two years at that point, and I wasn’t expecting it.

I’d written the piece (“Skewer the Stigma“) on the fly in a 20-minute span. It somehow took flight across the world and ultimately ended up landing in the hands of a quarter of a million people. No one is more surprised about that than me.

I had written it, posted it, and left it alone. But within a few hours, I started receiving email notifications that readers were leaving comments. Like 100 of them – surpassing my normal total daily readership and confounding the mess out of me.

Naturally, I assumed someone had passed out on her keyboard whilst looking at addiction recovery sites, and the multitude of visits were caused by her forehead landing on the “refresh” button repeatedly. It was the only logical explanation.

At 15,000 hits, I was convinced it was a cruel joke of some sort. Those pesky hackers.

But no, for some reason, the article  was truly going ‘viral.’ Something about it resonated with people enough to pass it along. And as a writer, that is really the most you can hope for – to hit the note that resonates with others.

I had wondered what it would feel like to have so many visitors…to have a blog post go viral. Strangely, the experience taught me more about myself than my readers.

Through the experience of going viral, I learned:

1) To pray for favor.

In many ways it was a post like every other. It wasn’t – in my estimation –  better or worse than anything else in the previous 180 blog posts on The Beggar’s Bakery. But I did specifically ask God for favor when I posted it. Now this is where it gets tricky, because while God’s favor is everything, I would subsequently pray favor over all of my posts and gleaned a little pearl of wisdom. I became willing to accept that God’s favor does not “look like” ours. He may favor you with two readers whose lives are forever changed by your words. His favor may look like 1,000,000 hits. Or He may favor you by revealing something to YOU in your own words that you never would have recognized any other way, even in a post that never makes it online. Prospering spiritually is so much richer than prospering in numbers. Speaking of numbers…..

2)  That numbers do not validate me.

I’m not really a “numbers girl” normally. I’m a Words Girl. I have this crazy, innate aversion to numbers, whether they be accessorized with mathematical symbols or dollar signs. But there is nothing like obsessively checking the stats of a blog post to muddy the blogging waters with numbers. 250,000 hits? That’s crazy talk. I must be legit now, right? Numbers that climb ever-higher may feel validating, but they really whip up insecurities. In many ways, blog stats are like alcoholic beverages to me: One is too many and a thousand not enough. When have I “arrived?” The stats and numbers do not hold that answer. Higher numbers often equal higher anxiety. Not a good thing for folks like me whose OCD feeds off of getting “one more hit.”

3) To stake my claim.

People are going to think you are crazy, or wrong. Or crazy wrong. The same vulnerability that makes your writing authentic opens you up to all kinds of criticism. I will never forget the first really negative comment that posted as a comment. The reader was very angry, taking exception with my statement that alcoholics and addicts get well with help from God. “What about atheists? What about them, huh? You must recant! You can’t make blanket statements like that!”  To which I replied, “Oh but I can. And I did. And I will.” At first, it hurt my feelings, but then it gave me an opportunity to learn how to stand firm.

My blog is my reality; my point of view. It is what works for me. I’m not going for a PC award, and I refuse to water down my message to appease readers. You can be both kind and firm. The experience taught me to strike my own authentic stance, and hold it. With hundreds of thousands of blogs out there, any reader who insists I change the content can, well … move along, little doggy.

4) To consider my work realistically.

Even when I write something I’m sure will get tons of traffic, very few posts actually do. I am neither the best nor the worst blogger out there is cyberspace. Going viral taught me to ride the wave without expecting a medal for surfing. Just enjoy the ride.

5) To pray for my readers.

This one should have been a foregone conclusion, but I had to learn to do it. Prayer takes a normal, natural article into a supernatural force to be reckoned with. I will never know where my messages ripple. Asking God to use it for his purposes assures me that even if a post only makes one person smile, or say “Aye carumba! I totally know how this feels!” it was worth writing and posting.

6) To blog honest or not blog at all.

When the post first started going viral, I fought the urge to go back in to WordPress and “perfect” it. Perhaps I shouldn’t have admitted this. Maybe I could take that out. But I try not to censor myself a whole bunch. I usually edit a piece several times before it goes up, but I try to keep the editing to grammar and spelling, and leave the truth raw and bare. It’s the only way, really, to share experience, strength and hope authentically.

7) Confidence to (self) publish my first book.

How many times did I say to myself, “I have a book in me”? Before this experience, I didn’t honestly think it would ever come out. But we all have books ‘in’ us – several. God spurred me to actually write that book – and self-publish it – in a two-week span after “Skewer the Stigma” went viral. God had told my spirit several months before: “Before you walked with me, your story was your story. When it became your testimony, it belongs to others, too.” I pray that the book falls supernaturally into the hands of those who might need some hope regarding addiction recovery. Going viral helped boost me in the direction to share it, just because I felt more confident. That was the only variable that had changed. I didn’t write the book to make money (which is a good thing, since I didn’t) but to share a story. You have one, too.

8) To expect viral posts to spread like … a virus.

It kind of picks up a life of it’s own. It becomes – as it should – more about the message and less about the author. It becomes out of your control in an epic way, in a manner that makes it impossible to track. I discovered that no, I really don’t crave fame. I’m proud of the piece and grateful to Abba for allowing me to share it in such a huge way. But getting my name “out there” was strangely anti-climatic. I became very ‘meh’ about it, very quickly. It just doesn’t satisfy the way you imagine it would. Only God can satisfy that wholly, that perfectly.

9) That I may have peaked, cyber-wise.

I may never go this way again. The heady, surreal nature of going viral is so fleeting. How to recreate it? That’s where faith comes in. God will give me the words he wants me to spread, and hopefully he will help me filter the words I shouldn’t spread. I cannot ‘recreate it’ nor should I try.

There are far, far better things ahead than what we leave behind, as C.S. Lewis said.

Or as is written in Ecclesiastes… to everything there is a season (turn, turn, turn…)

10) Not to bastardize my craft.

When I began blogging, I felt like such an amateur writer. Then a post went viral and I felt legit. And then after things calmed down, I worried after my worth as a writer again. I was causing myself so much drama in figuring out my place in the blogosphere! Nothing I’ve written since has gone bananas, and it may never happen again. And I’m okay with that. Now, I still sometimes wonder how it would feel to be a legitimate writer, for real and for true. And then God reminds me that it’s my job to write, and to skip the labeling, and get over myself. To just write already, and let the flow happen. A real, legitimate writer would just keep writing. It’s that simple.

11) Nifty stats are not my friend.

Oh my heavens, the detail available! There are numbers, and even color-coded maps of the countries whose residents read it!  India. Saudi Arabia. France? Ooo la LA! Such neat accoutrements – they must be tools for success, no?

No. Stats take a creative, open, spiritual soul out of the lush garden, and make her a neurotic, over-analyzing, nut-job in the dry desert. And that about sums up my experience with fancy statistics.

12) Going viral is kind of neato-keen for a while, but not essential.

Our Father in Heaven is not interested in the numbers games, but we humans love to count pats on the back. Pair numbers with technology and you have the virtual world in your fingertips and a real world that hasn’t been touched at all. Algorithms and marketing (I did absolutely none with the one post that went viral) do not determine the “success” of a blog post.

Sometimes I post a blog that gets hit ten times. I am so grateful for my readership, no matter the size. Sometimes I will just be having a day that sucks, and I’m not feeling spiritual at all, and my feelings need a place to go –  so I jot my grumpy words down. And once in a while, a reader will comment that they, too, are having a sucky day and not feeling spiritual at all, but it was a comfort to know that their circumstances were not sucking in a vacuum – that we are all intertwined, somehow. Chin up! You are never alone!

Because we are all intertwined, somehow. And no one is more surprised about that than me – every time it happens. As a writer, that is really the most you can hope for – to hit the note that resonates with others.

God controls the ripples, the currents, and who consumes the words. In all of the great Cyberland, we share our words as experience, and it comes back to us joy. And that is something to get infectiously viral about.

A real gift.

EDGEWISE book giveaway time!

EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God
EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God

It’s book giveaway time again! I am happy to announce that two copies of my recovery memoir, “EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God” will go to winners in the http://www.goodreads.com giveaway event. The deadline to enter the contest is July 20.

It’s easy to enter, and there is no obligation whatsoever.

To enter, CLICK HERE.

God bless you!

 

Upcoming EDGEWISE book launch

Hello, dear readers! It may seem as though I have been on some sort of writing sabbatical, but I can assure you that is not the case. Since the last blog post, I have been working hard to publish my first book, EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God. If learning is a ‘curve,’ than I am on a ‘figure 8’ adventure these days! I am very much looking forward to the upcoming launch, and will keep you readers advised of the progress. Thank you for your readership, by the way. Best readers in the WORLD!

(In the meantime, here is a sneak peak at the cover…)

EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God
EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and into the Love of God

Life is Gathering Material – Writers and (a little bit of) Madness

By: Jana Greene

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K-CANF3z4LY

This morning, I stumbled across a movie trailer for a film that came out last April. It’s kind of a funny story, how I came across it on youtube.com, since I wasn’t really looking for movie trailers – or videos at all.

A good friend of mine is a Writer (with a capital “w”) and mentioned recently that we share an “urge” to write that is impossible to be ignored. This friend is a legit writer, with all kinds of publishing credits to her name, but she still reads my stuff. I love that about her – that she treats me like a Capital W writer.

So I am having a cup of coffee this morning and it is delicious, because it has real cream in it that was leftover in the carton from a pie I’d made on Thanksgiving. If you ask me, good coffee is all about the dairy. You could brew the crappiest coffee beans in the world and if you add real cream to it, it all tastes like Starbucks. But I digress in a big way.

I am enjoying the coffee and thinking about writers and their compulsion to write about everything (see above paragraph as Exhibit A) and how it is probably really some form of Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder.  There is an reel running in a  writer’s mind at all times; a kind of narrative about people we meet and what makes them tick, and the deeper meaning in every life experience, including people who cut you off in traffic…and about what makes coffee taste good. We are forever gathering information and formulating a way to present it to the world from our points of view. Not that everyone necessarily wants to hear our points of view. I didn’t even want to hear my own  point of view for many years, which is why I drank heavily and became an alcoholic. Tons of creative people become addicts because of that dang reel of thoughts. But I digress yet again.

The crafting of words can be healing, too. If you are very authentic with your words and ask God to help you parlay his sentiments on occasion, you might even help other people. But you have to be very brave, and a little wacky.

Acting, like writing, is highly subjective. There are a few actors who I would pay good money to hear read a phone book, so convincing are they in presenting their characters. Christopher Walken is one for me – I’ve no idea why. Morgan Freeman, for obvious reason.  Another is Robert De Niro, who just happens to star in the movie I’m referencing here.

See? It all ties together (albeit loosely). Follow the bouncing ball.

The film is titled “Being Flynn”. De Niro is Jonathan Flynn, who writes brilliantly but leads a troubled life wrought with relational disaster. From the movie trailer, several things are clear. First, Flynn sees himself as a Capital W but his son feels only his absence. And second, I must see this movie.

I hesitated to write about this film about writing until I had seen it, which would make logical sense. People who live with the incessant urge to write emotionally are spontaneous creatures, and only employ logic when absolutely necessary.  We often cannot wait to record our thoughts and deeds, as writing about moment becomes obsolete after the moment passes.  And also, I found it through googling quotes about writers, which led me to watch the trailer in which De Niro’s character – who is homeless at this point – says this:

“Of course, writers – especially  poets – are particularly prone to madness.”

They are, indeed. Or are they just more honest about their inner workings, sharing the deeper meanings of each experience in such a non-refundable way? They give of themselves what can never belong exclusively to them again. Most of the time, they don’t find validation or wealth or recognition of their craft. Most of the time, what they give to the reader never pays off Capital W style.

By further researching “Being Flynn”, I found that it is a true story based on a novel entitled, “Another Bullsh*t Night in Suck City: A Memior.” It is written by the  son of De Niro’s character, Nick Flynn. That’s a crazy title – and I nearly didn’t include it in this piece because I am a Christian and not supposed to endorse profanity( I’m not really supposed to use profanity in everyday life either, but sometimes I slip and I thank God that He extends grace) but I actually appreciate the author’s honesty. In keeping it real, he keeps as sane as possible and writes a story in which human kindness and goodness prevails.

Writing itself is madness in some ways, because it makes the artist most vulnerable. But it is also the antidote to madness. Because recording experience through the written word is reaching out to reality instead of losing touch with it. Everyone is a little bit mad. I’m only really afraid of people who claim to be completely sane.

“We were put on this life to help other people, Nicholas,” Flynn finally tells his son. “It’s a wonderful life. It’s a masterpiece.”

A wonderful, spiritual, maddening masterpiece.