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On the Midnight Shuttle

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Moonlit Fields of Desire by Angela Turpin

We met at the Los Angeles airport after our flight was canceled because of a mechanical failure. You asked me, “Will they ship my luggage to my home?” I shrugged, having not traveled much in my lifetime, not much at all, except for business, which was why I was here, waiting for the next flight to Santa Rosa.

I didn’t pay any more attention to you. I was too busy waiting for my boss to return with her bottled water. I wanted to board the plane and head home. It was after ten o’clock, past my bed time, and the veggie sandwich I had eaten an hour ago was not enough to settle my nerves about whether or not I would be home in the morning to help my husband take our children to their respective schools.

After the plane landed in San Francisco, you found me once again waiting for the midnight shuttle to take us home. When you wouldn’t stop talking, I finally reached out, introduced myself, and shook your hand. I noticed your closely clipped hair that made you look almost bald, the tweed Fred Astaire hat in your hand, and the button down shirt and khaki slacks that made you look like you had stepped out of a 1950’s photo. You kept on talking and talking, and your enthusiasm buoyed me. I lost track of how cold the San Franciscan air was and how dark and lonely it felt beneath the awning. You were like a bouncing fluorescent ball of energy illuminating the darkness. Your talk was so absorbing, witty, and entertaining that I forgot about how my husband did not call to say he loved me, how my daughter only cared about how I had yet again missed her birthday, and how my co-worker friend thought my photo text with the abbreviated message, “Wish you were here,” was for my husband, not him.

My boss stood on the sidewalk behind us smoking a cigarette. I pointed to a man standing on the curb holding a sign with someone’s name written in black marker. “That will be me later this year when I go on a cross country book tour,” I said.

You glanced behind us at the man with the sign and nodded. “How many books have you written?”

“Too many to count,” I said, “but this will be the fifth I’ve published.” I bit my lower lip and tears welled up in my eyes as I wondered if my family would miss me or would they dread the day I returned.

You tossed the tweed hat back and forth between your hands and said, “I followed a girlfriend to college and picked whatever major seemed grown up at the time just to be with her, but when I discovered color—how blue or orange can make someone buy something—I discovered the my true calling.” You clasped your hat gently with the fingers of one hand and gazed at me with your hazel eyes. “Sometimes you have to follow a path that will care for your health and spirit.”

I glanced away and shivered. You must have thought I was cold because you offered me your jacket. I shook my head and said, “It’s my soul that’s freezing.”

You frowned and pulled me close. I rested my cheek against your shoulder and noticed my boss across the street staring at us. I shifted, trying to pull away, but you held me closer and whispered, “How can you be with someone who limits your potential? Who doesn’t want you to succeed? It might have been fine when you’re twenty, but it’s not okay when you’re forty. You need respect and recognition. You deserve to be with someone who understands that.”

“All I ever wanted was happiness,” I whispered back.

You released me. “Are you happy?”

I glanced away, afraid to answer.

You waved your hat like a magic wand, cutting through the night, bringing clarity to the situation. “When my wife and I contemplated getting a divorce last year, she said it was because she couldn’t live with a man who was too soft with his children. I told her I would rather be unmarried and alone than to create so much tension with my son that he would never open up to me. If that means I’m not hard on him, then I’m willing to end the marriage. I cannot live with someone who cannot accept me as I am.” Our eyes met. “When are you going to stop hiding that light inside of you?”

“I’m not hiding it,” I said.

You stopped talking. Your fingers splayed to catch the brittle night. “You’re such a liar.”

I laughed.

When the shuttle arrived, we sat next to each other and continued to chat until the bus driver said, “Hush. People are trying to sleep.” You tilted your head close to mine, and our heads touched. “Let’s whisper,” you said.

It was after midnight. “We should be sleeping,” I said. “We both have to be at work by eight.”

You whispered, “But I could talk to you all night.”

I smiled. “And I could listen to you all night.”

You said, “You are a good listener.”

We touched noses and continued talking.

I felt your voice vibrating against my skin. I felt your energy infiltrating me with new life. I felt your words filling me up, making me full.

“I have plenty of friends who say they’re writers,” you said, “but I’ve never seen anything they’ve written.”

“It’s a tough business,” I said.

“That doesn’t matter.” You wrapped your arm around my shoulder, tugging me closer. I placed my head against your shoulder and felt safe and warm and loved and understood. You said, “You’ve published five books.”

“I only sell one book for every five hundred hits on my website,” I said.

“That’s good.” Your voice uplifted me. “The average conversion rate is one to two percent.”

I was too tired to try to calculate the mathematical formula to verify if you were correct. “I won’t feel so bad anymore,” I said, although I knew deep down I would continue to compare myself to my friends, many of whom had books for sale in the Hudson Bookstore at the airport terminal at LAX.

You held me closer and whispered, “You’re a star.”

I smiled against your shirt, too uncomfortable for words.

Later, as the shuttle drifted through San Francisco, our words grew sparser, our breaths grew longer, and our eyelids grew heavier until we parted into dreams.

When the bus driver jolted us awake, we parted like plastic peeling away from skin, reluctantly and hesitatingly, a film of body heat clinging to us like memory. You said, “I enjoyed our conversation.”

We stepped out into the night, and while I waited for my boss to disembark to drive me home, you pulled me into your arms and said, “Even if we never see each other again, I will always look into the heavens and think of you because you are a star.”

I felt my throat tighten and tears well up against the surface of my eyes. “This night reminds me of the movie Before Sunrise,” I said.

You chuckled, stepping back and holding me with your hands on my shoulders. “No, it’s more like Clerks.”

I shook my head. “It was more like destiny.”

You smiled and nodded, donning your hat and walking away to the long term parking lot, leaving me alone.

Weeks have passed since that night. And whenever I am alone after midnight I think of you and wonder if you still think I am a star.

Limitlessness

RunHow are you limiting your success?

For years, people tried to encourage me to paint on larger canvases. Instead of taking their advice, I continued painting portrait sized landscapes that could be discretely hung in an office setting or as one of many paintings on a living room wall.

Now I realize why I shied away from those larger canvases. Fear. It’s easy to paint small, to say to the world, “My creativity can fit on my desk.” But if the audience wants to hear you scream instead of whisper, you have to decide whether to respond to that request or continue to hide behind the fear that limits you.

I finally took that leap of faith when I put down a wallet sized canvas and purchased a wall sized canvas that took up the back seat of my car. The next-door-neighbor helped me carry it into the house.

Then my heart sank.

All those excuses on why I couldn’t succeed threatened to extinguish the hope I had been feeling. I was eight years old being scolded for drawing when I was supposed to be memorizing my multiplication tables. I was sixteen years old in the guidance counselor’s office being told to choose a different major because no one makes money drawing pictures. I was twenty-eight years old in a job interview being told my artistic vision was too original to ever make it as a marketing director.

But the amazing thing about faith is the magic behind its force. My husband rearranged the furniture to accommodate the oversized canvas. My daughter suggested potential subjects to paint. And my son, who usually dominates the entire household with his demands, decided to leave me alone.

If you can abandon the excuses others have given you, those same excuses you have chosen to make your own, you can unleash your success.

Surprises

Sometimes success happens long after you’ve given up hope for a happy ending.

Let me explain.

Years ago I visited a retired executive to go over my business plan. I wanted to expand my art business through manufacturing and licensing, but the retired executive believed I could never accomplish my goals because I lacked the time.

“You need 80 hours a week to do what you want to do,” he said. “Anything less is certain failure.”

That experience dampened my exuberance. Instead of walking away with a strategy to transform my business, I was advised to give up.

I didn’t follow the advice, but I did scale back my dream. I stopped pursuing manufacturers for a contract and settled for keeping production in-house. I stopped courting companies to license my artwork for personal checks, calendars, books, and clip art and settled for producing limited edition prints instead. I stopped trying to expand my market to art galleries in New York and settled with art galleries in San Francisco.

This week I received a call from an art gallery owner I hadn’t heard from in a long time. “Are you still at the same address?” she asked.

“Yes, I am,” I said. “Why?”

My largest and most expensive painting had sold. The art gallery owner was calling to confirm where to send the check.

After the initial shock wore off, a warm glow of joy and satisfaction overcame me.

I sold a piece of artwork I had mentally written off.

I had given up just like the retired executive had advised.

And I was wrong.

I started wondering what would have happened if I had not listened to that retired executive and had continued to pursue my big dream.

Who’s keeping you from pursuing yours?


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Move Beyond Despair

Rain in Australian Rainforest Cairns, Australia

“Action is the antidote to despair.”
–Joan Baez

Rejection is an inevitable part of the publishing business. Not every literary agent, editor, or publishing house is going to share your vision for your story. Even those who want to shepherd you may find they cannot connect with your story in a way that will bring it to its fullest potential. They may lack the same passion as you do for your project and decide to pass.

After facing several rounds of rejection, you may start to doubt your story and yourself as a writer. When the clouds of “no’s” start piling up in your sky, it’s only natural to expect a little despondent rain. Just remember: do not get soaked.

My favorite artist is Vincent Van Gogh. I’ve traveled to see his original paintings, read all his letters to his brother, Theo, and studied about his art and life. My fascination is measured equally with repulsion: no matter how much I admire his artwork and his passion for God and the common people, it does not overshadow the fact that Van Gogh was basically a failure, living off his brother’s charity, selling only one painting during his lifetime, and ending his own life with his last words being, “This sadness will last forever.”

When I first became acquainted with Van Gogh, I thought I could outsmart the darkness by denying I was an artist and embracing a practical, mathematical, and scientific way of life. That failure led me back to where I began: as a child fascinated equally by both the light and the darkness, success and failure, hope and despair.

Over the years, I’ve learned the duality exists as two sides of the coin. You cannot have acceptance without rejection. You cannot have success without failure. You cannot have joy without despair. The key, however, is to find a balance.

When the rainfall of rejection starts pounding on the rooftop of my thoughts, I take action. I resist the impulse to let the sadness tug me deep into the undertow of negative thoughts that can easily spiral out of control and sink me deep into desolation. I engage in activities that bring hope, light, and joy into my life, whether that be creating something new, spending time with loved ones, or reading a good book.

Not every creative act finds a home. Not every invention is patented and sold. Not every cure for every disease is discovered. That doesn’t mean we stop trying to create, invent or cure. We do not let despair paralyze us with inaction. We take a break to gather strength, recalibrate our instruments, and step forward toward hope.

The rainfall of rejection eventually dissipates like any other storm. The secret is to engage in pleasurable activities and indulge in positive thoughts to prevent from drowning in misery, for no sadness will last forever.



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