I am going to gently assume some of you may know that I am attempting to write a novel. For over a year now.  Even fewer of you are probably wondering, how it is going? Well, let me tell you. Not good, that’s how. Thanks for asking. Up to this point, I’d give it an all around solid D+ and that just isn’t going to get me on the NY Times Best Seller list one day, is it?

So I decided I needed help. So I asked for help. I added a really big, beggy PLEASE because I have good manners and then,

I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

A really long time but then one day,

I happened to see that a creative writing class at an ivy-leagued university, which is a mere 5 minute drive from my house, was being offered for audit by non-students as well as students. Now since the last time I checked, I had not just attended Senior Prom, graduated high school Class Valedictorian and President, received a perfect SAT score and was roaming around that ivy-covered campus with a backpack strapped on and a syllabus in my hand, it was clear that I’d have to apply as a non-student. Which was going to be much harder. (Of course, all those thousands of exhausted, socially deprived, over-acheiving valedictorians might take issue with me on this point. Whatever. Let’s agree to disagree, k?)

Nonetheless, I was willing to do whatever it took to get into this class because this was not going to be any ordinary creative writing class. This class was being taught by SEVERAL big time authors. Pulitzer Prize winning authors! Names like Joyce Carol Oates, Edmund White, and Jeffrey Eugenides! Just to name drop a few. I could just die from excitement and desire! (Which my rare use of exclamation marks should tell you.) I wanted to get into that class. I needed to get into that class. My future NY Times Bestseller status depended on it.

I enthusiastically decided to apply for a spot in the class because in order to be considered, both students of the university as well as non-students who may or may not be too old to have computerized transcripts and/or crows feet, had to submit an application on why you wanted to audit the class along with a writing piece on a topic from a list they provided.

Sadly, my enthusiasm didn’t last long. Just the thought of Jeffrey Eugenides reading something I wrote was enough to cause some serious anxiety and crushing feelings incompetence and unworthiness as witnessed by my first attempts. Which were awful. I used so many big, grown up, thesaurusy words, as well as the word alas one too many times, that I didn’t even understand what I was writing. There were a lot of metaphors too and long, drawn out sentences that went slowly nowhere. I was trying to be extra fancy, serious and literary and it wasn’t working for me. I realized pretty quickly that I was just spinning my wheels and I was stuck. With a deadline.

As many of you who live north of the Mason Dixon Line have learned, when you are stuck, when your car wheels are just spinning in the snow, the worst thing you can do is accelerate faster. Traction doesn’t depend on the speed of the wheels. In fact, traction is reduced by rapidly spinning wheels. What you need to do is slow down. Move the tires ever so slowly, ever so gently. Maybe dig some of the snow out of the way and then inch your way out of the rut and move on with your life.

Finally, after a few more panicky attempts to write something I imagined my tortured inner James Joyce would produce, I decided to stop spinning my wheels. I took some long walks. I meditated. I put down my laptop and picked up some over-ripe bananas. I made banana bread. I made banana muffins. I made banana cake. And then, with Windex clarity, I saw what I needed to do. I needed to stop being afraid of entering the cave. I needed to stop being afraid of being me. Of using my writing style with my overuse of italics, whole sentences made up of one word and questionable grammar and see what happened.

This is what happened,


I got a spot in the class.

Which only proves one thing, I am awesome. No. Kidding. It proves that being yourself is always the way to go because James Joyce already got that other gig. Or in more wise words from Joseph Campbell, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” Getting behind that one, well, that’s freedom right there.

The topic I chose from the list to write about was, “What motivates you?” Here it is. I’m splashing around in the shallow end of the pool this time. It gets exhausting always swimming in the deep end, as one of my friends says, with all the suffering.

See you around the quad!

xo, Maeve


An Essay on Motivation

by Maeve Brophy Smith

When summer turns to fall, I know it is time to buckle up. Unfortunately, change does not come easy for me. I do not remotely have the right disposition for the constant changing world we live in let alone East Coast seasons. It takes much more trusting and letting go than I frankly seem capable. This fall especially blindsided me as I seemed to accidentally forget to do all the things I longed to do all year during the summer and I found myself full of self loathing and toxic levels of regret sitting at back to school night wondering why I didn’t sleep in more, finish more than one novel while sitting on the beach, watch one more sunset over the bay or make paella. Damn, I really wanted to make that paella. Summer is just too short to get in all the things I dreamed of doing while knee deep in snow.

You would think that since letting go is so difficult for me that I’d be one newspaper stack away from being on Hoarders: Buried Alive begging the host not to throw them away because I might take up papier mache one day, but you’d be wrong. Anyone who knows me even slightly, knows clutter is not my thing. SO not my thing. Cleanliness is next to Godliness is my personal mantra and I consider cleaning to be my main spiritual practice second only to napping which I believe just makes people kinder.

I have been known, from time to time, to throw something away only to blame that later needed item on one of my children for losing it, only to remember that I actually threw it away months ago. Of course, I never come clean. So to speak. They are always losing things. I mean always. Also, I think it is well within my rights as a parent to look as if I have the situation here reasonably under control. Reasonably is all I’m shooting for at this point. Exceptionally or exceedingly didn’t last long and is just for show offs. Sometimes, though, they know. And I know they know. And they know I know they know. They start to say, “Didn’t you…” but I give them the don’t even look. And they don’t even.

Naturally this compulsive cleaning shows up in other areas of my life. Not to brag but I could be the poster girl for dental hygiene. I am a dental goody two shoes. A true dental nerd. Every morning I brush my teeth with whitening toothpaste the split second I finish my coffee to avoid unsightly yellowing, every night I brush each tooth individually with prescription strength flouride toothpaste with my precision tip professional Rodadent Plus toothbrush, I wear a very sexy mouthguard to bed to protect my delicate enamel which is in jeopardy from all the apparent grinding I do while sleeping, I carry dental picks in my purse and store them in the ashtray of my car and use them so frequently that my children have asked me to refrain from using them when I am driving their friends around because “it is so embarassing” and I recently purchased a dental scaler from just in case I notice any tartar buildup before my next dental cleaning which I schedule every 4 months on the dot. Twice a year is for slackers.

And, of course, I floss. Everyday.

I realize all this is a) exhausting b) anal and c) too much information but…. jimmy crack corn and I don’t care. I love my dentist. I stride into my dentists office eager and confident for my triannual cleanings like a B-list celebrity at a local book signing flashing my lily-white, healthy gummed smile to all the sweating, miserable, bleeding-gummed slackers in the waiting room hiding their heads in up-to-date People magazines.

Once comfortably seated in the dental chair, let the ooh and aahs and congratulatory accolades begin! Oooh! the firmness of my gums. Aaah! the lack of bleeding. Oooh! the absence of tartar build-up. I soak it all in for the ego boost it is. As you can see, I have a very low set point for ego boosts.

Finally, a swift and painless 30 minutes later, it is all topped off with a celebratory, “Great job, see you in 4 months. Keep up the good work!” which I secretly hope everyone in the waiting room hears so I can exit all goddess-like in a whirlwind of dental envy and glory.

As tempting as it is to me to allow you to believe that I have always been periodontally gifted, that would be a lie as the mercury filled molars at the back of my mouth can attest. No. For years and years, I was among the tight-lipped, mirror sunglassed-wearing, floss-slacking basket cases in the waiting room furtively glancing up from my magazine nervously awaiting my painful and degrading appointment while praying for the dental equivalent of the Get Out of Jail Free card – the unexpected dental emergency. The dental emergency is the only thing which could unforeseeably but unfortunately force my appointment to be cancelled. Unless you count a tsumani hitting which I had given up all hope of happening in central Jersey some time ago.

You would hardly blame me if you could bear witness to all the exasperation and disappointment coming at me from behind all those paper masks of Dr. I Know You Don’t Floss and his assistants, the Flossy Ladies. He’d start with the matter of fact, “You’re not flossing.”

Then move to the quizzical yet judgy, “You’re still not flossing?”

Followed by the stern parent-child I know better than you, “You need to floss” as I spit another mouthful of blood-tinged saliva from my mouth into that teeny tiny little sink hoping the water would swirl away the evidence of my lack of good dental hygiene away as quickly as possible.

Then, with a very patient look on his face, the kind that says I’m being very patient with you. See it on my face?, he’d pull out an enormous length of floss in this very dramatic fashion like he was pulling out a sword from his scabbard ready to slay a dragon and proceed to give me yet another lesson in how to floss. Like I’m five. Like I don’t know how. Like that must be the reason I am not complying. I have just simply never learned.

So I sit there learning how to floss and nodding my head like an idiot and paying attention like it was the first time I’ve ever seen someone floss saying things like, “Oh, I see, the floss is used in your mouth” because my only alternative was to say, “Jesus, I know how to floss. I just choose not to.” Which is worse. Trust me. Because first, you brought Jesus into it and second, you then get the lecture they learned in dental school on how important flossing is for your overall health where horrible things like coronary heart disease gets mentioned. And that can take some time. And may involve a slide show. And lots of shaming and make you worry that they might hand you, on the down low, one of the cards sitting on the front desk for the behavioral therapist in the next suite because clearly you suffer from lack of self-love and low self-esteem and are probably one step away from cutting.

But then one day, just like that, I started flossing. I just decided to change a behavior I could have gone a lifetime with no one the wiser except me, the Flossy Ladies and my husband who would have had to make room on the bathroom vanity every night for my soaking dentures. Because those I would clean, obviously.

Was it the risk of coronary heart disease that got me to change my oral health ways? Was it hearing the word gingivitis for the millionth time? Was it the possibility of spending thousands of dollars in root canals and crowns? Nope. It was none of those things.

I simply did not want to be handed that card.