Turning reaction into action

There are times when it feels as if your life is totally and completely out of your control. In these instances, I believe, all you can control is your reaction and subsequent action.

I am not always great at controlling my reaction. Often, I react in kind of a visceral way ? like putting Mentos into a bottle of Coke. Whatever I?m feeling just kind of bubbles up and explodes.

That was my response when I was told I had been living with a deadly heart condition all my life. I was calm for what felt like a millisecond. In actuality, I was calm enough for us to drive from Iowa City to our Missouri home. And then I exploded.

How could I live 17 years like this? Why was this happening to me? How could God hate me so much?

When the doctors told me I?d have to have open-heart surgery to correct my defects, my parents thought I?d be a ticking time bomb, like before. This time, however, I didn?t have a reaction. I tried to ignore it. I went numb.

I didn?t take any action, either. What was the point? What was going to happen would happen. There was nothing I could do about it; my life was out of my control.

Seeing me trying to hold it all in and myself together, my high school English teacher suggested I put pen to paper and write about my experience.

I didn?t. There was nothing about this experience I wanted to remember, I recall telling him. ?When you?re ready to deal with what?s happening to you, I think you?ll find it useful,? he said.

Once again, I didn?t heed his advice.

A year and a half later, I was still alive, a faint zipper scare hinting to the outside world of my story. But there was a lot I hadn?t dealt with. Ignoring what is happening doesn?t make it go away. And sitting in a room, ruminating about it doesn?t help either, it simply lets all your negativity fester, like an infected sore. So I sought help. I met with a counselor and was finally able to react and act.

It turns out writing was my way of doing that. By writing about my experience, I was able to delve into my emotional baggage and start sorting it out. There was a lot of crying, a fair amount of yelling and finally, I began the first steps towards healing.

I didn?t want the writing to stop, though. Not about my experience or what was happening around me. You could say this was my final push toward becoming a journalist. Telling others? stories became my action.

And while I love writing about local government, education issues and shining a light on our friends and neighbors, there?s one story that I always come back to.

It started out as part of my therapy sessions and then it turned into so much more. I started writing my memoir when I was 18 ? between classes and at night when I couldn?t sleep.

When I was 21, I had finished my first draft. I sent it out to literary agents, hoping someone would see the beauty of my story. It was disheartening when after three months I hadn?t heard anything back.

Over the years, I?ve written and rewritten my manuscript and every six months or so I?ll revise my query letter and send out a new batch. What has changed over the past nine years is my reaction to rejection.

It?s easy to sit here and say it?s not personal; that they aren?t rejecting me, but for a story that is so raw, personal, and a huge part of who I am today, it is personal. And I?m not saying that controlling your reaction is to not be hurt, or angry or sad. Feel those emotions. Live in them for a moment. But take them and channel them into action.

Every time I rewrote my manuscript/query letter, I became one step closer to my goal of being published. I went from not even receiving a rejection letter to getting the standard ?no? to ?it?s intriguing, it?s just not right for my list.?

And yesterday, I finally received a letter that gave me hope. An agent told me they were ?immediately drawn? into my story. The thing is it?s hard to get published. It?s not just enough to have a good story or message; you have to show your book would have a reader base. The agent suggested I build my platform. Get my story out there; show that I have an audience.

Sure, I didn?t get a yes. But I didn?t get a no, either. I got a new goal, more motivation and another way to take action.

So as I figure out how to build my platform, I want to say thank you to the audience whose ear I know I already have. Thank you for reading our paper, our articles and our columns where we get to take a step back from the news and show you a little bit of ourselves.

Thank you for taking interest and thank you for your kind words. I have received a number of notes in the past couple of weeks and I just wanted to say how much I appreciate them. They warm my heart, give me drive and make for some pretty great refrigerator decoration.