Only 24 hours in a day. Or 1+1+1+1=100.

Yesterday I got a notification that my blog was having a banner day–surprising since I haven’t posted in two months–and it reminded me how busy the last two months have been. As readers of Creative Chaos might know, I’m almost two years out from a divorce and the economic insecurities that often accompany divorce can be stressful. More on that in a few…

Over the past year I’ve been pleased to find challenging and satisfying work event planning at Maine Share, doing customer service work at LLBean, and event planning at Bowdoin College. All along, I’ve been volunteering as the Program Director with my local rowing club. This spring, they hired me as their part time Head Coach as well and I’ve spent a great deal of time in the last two months on the water teaching adults and teens to scull and sweep row.

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In addition to the coaching and program directing I’m also SUPER happy to have found a part time temporary home at Islandport Press as their Author Relations and Events Coordinator. In this position I’m able to help Islandport authors with social media, blogs, book them in bookstores and festivals, and help create publicity campaigns and events to sell great books. (Shameless plug: please follow Islandport Press on social media.)

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We now rejoin our program of economic insecurity already in progress…

I love what I’m doing. Still, anyone who has juggled a family, writing, and more than one job knows that the sum of the parts feels WAY greater than it should (ie: 1+1+1+1=100) Part of that 100 number is the chasm of unemployment that looms with temporary jobs. Once the rowing season ends, and the temporary position with the publishing house ends I’m on the search again. It’s a feast and famine sensibility so in the last two months I’ve also written and delivered an article to the new Coxing Magazine (so exciting!), given a presentation to the Romance Writers of Maine, and taught a rowing workshop to counselors at a local sleep away camp. I’m the busy ant storing for the winter.

If there is a positive about the looming chasm of unemployment it is that I might actually get back to my works in progress (a middle grade novel 1st draft and 2 PB rewrites) which wait patiently on my computer. I also might be posting more here at Creative Chaos. I will keep you updated. Cheers!

 

Embracing Self-care

Kvetching and moaning confessional ahead. You’ve been warned.

Kvetch Zone

Let me start by saying motivation has been low on this side of the keyboard. After working for a couple of years on a project, I hit a major road block. The new piece I started in January and was super excited about seems to have stalled as I’ve reached the muddy middle. My knee has been aching (an injury from a couple of years ago come back to haunt me), and I’ve used that as an excuse not to work out even though working out is one of the main ways I control stress and mood. The job (read income) situation has been spotty at best. Eighteen months out from the finalization of my divorce and the journey of grief seems to be never ending.

takabisha_roller_coaster
I’m okay! I’m not okay. I’m okay! Nope, not even close.

And don’t even get me started on the weather. It’s 60 degrees and sunny then it’s 18 and snowing. Right now there is some kind of mixed rainy, freezey, ooblecky* crap coming from the sky and I have on wrist warmers while I write. The only thing that has brightened my spirits has been the large number of hits my post about college visits got this week. I have had enough. If I was rich I’d hop a plane to somewhere with palm trees and turquoise waters. Instead, I watched the first three seasons of House of Cards (not a feel good show that one) interspersed with The British Baking Show (much lighter) and surfed the internet for inspiration.

I suppose I could find something on the internet to validate any mood but this week a few things have fallen into my cyber lap and I thought I’d share them with you.

From Seven Scribes and Daniel José Older, this post Writing Begins With Forgiveness: Why One of the Most Common Pieces of Writing Advice is Wrong.

From Robin LaFevers via Amitha Knight, Surviving Nearly There about how hard an extended writing journey can be without publication and the importance of walking away from time to time.

From Jamie Varon via Ingrid Sundberg, To Anyone Who Thinks They’re Falling Behind.

All of these articles reinforce the idea that sometimes writers need to take time off, that the universe provides, that we are where we are for a reason, that we need to be kind to ourselves. I tend not to buy this line of thinking. If you’ve read Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and rewards) of Artmaking by Bales & Orland, you’ve seen their argument that artists will do almost anything rather than do their art. They call this “resistance” in the book and I seem to have it in spades. My suspicion of self-care is probably rooted in my early indoctrination as a rower. “There is no I in team,” “we don’t say can’t,” “row hard or go home.” As you can see, there’s not a lot of forgiveness or kindness in this philosophy. At this point though, I’ve should-haved and guilted and scolded myself enough and the only thing I feel is that it’s time for a hot bath…

…and another cup of forgiveness tea.

 

 

College Tours: A new chapter in parenting.

  • 5 Colleges
  • 3 Hotel Nights
  • 2 Nights in Extended Family Guest Rooms
  • Too many meals out
  • 3 Meals at College Cafeterias
  • 800 Miles
  • 1 Urgent Care Visit
  • 2 Sets of Antibiotics and Meds

I have entered a new chapter in parenting called The College Search and Application Process (C-SAP?). Some college search and application information and many skills can be passed from family to family and taught by agencies and organizations. Still, each child and parent/child relationship is different therefore each journey is individual. For me this is going to be a journey of learning to back off.

For instance, on the one hand, a young adult might be able to eloquently ask questions in a tour and talk to students easily but when faced with an admission counselor behind a desk that same young adult might only give one word answers. This could be difficult for the parent who knows that a more in depth answer would show what a marvelous, committed, unique and talented individual that young adult is. (All hypothetical. Of course. But you bet your a** I jumped in and started asking more specific leading questions.)

Here’s the thing, a child of 15 or 16 is almost ready, wanting to be ready, to make big decisions about his/her life and they are also, and at the same time, a parent’s baby. Nothing illustrates this dichotomy more clearly than the sick young adult. In the weeks leading up to this trip the snot had been flowing. We’d gone through miles of facial tissues and plenty of antihistamines. I’d been hoping that the crud would magically disappear when their vacation started. Instead, it multiplied and I had two sick kids. Nothing doing. They’d sleep in the car and finally get some rest away from constant homework, play and music rehearsals. We’d soldier on and do the tours anyway although I was apprehensive about how son #1’s sample voice lesson would go.

We were fine until that moment at college #3. There we were in a standard double dorm room. Two desks, two bureaus, two dressers, two beds and about twenty five parents and their children. That’s when I looked over at son #2 and saw that although he was in a winter hat and coat, he was shivering and had turned a shade somewhere between mauve and mint. We had already visited the urgent care office at the behest of my cousin who, after hearing both boys blow their noses and hack up a lung for two days convinced me that one could never be too careful. That’s how we found out that son #1 had sinusitis and that son #2 probably just had a bad cold. That hadn’t stopped the Drive-thru Doc from prescribing both kids a cocktail of antibiotics (just in case), allergy meds (?), and steroids to help with the inflammation. The group and son #1 continued the tour while I took son #2 back to the admissions office, wrapped him in a blanket and started him on the antibiotics. Good thing I did because the lab result for strep came back positive.

Once the antibiotics kicked in, both sons were leap frogging from one hotel bed to the next and having pillow fights but I was left wondering, how are these children (for whom I fill the bathroom with steam and rub their chest with vaporub and make sure they take their meds and give family medical history) going to be okay without me? They just are, and I know it. I know it from letting them go every other week as I share custody with their father. I know it as we leave each other for travel to camps and schools and conferences. I know it in the eyes of the accomplished and sensitive young men they are becoming.

My ability to back off, however, is less assured.

 

Birthday Soup

If you do not worship Maurice Sendak I will not unfriend you but know that onward, I will consider you deeply damaged. These are childhood copies of Sendak books that I have kept (not sure about my Where the Wild Things Are copy but now I’m on the hunt.) The Little Bear books, written by Else Holmelund Minarik, were some of the first I read on my own and each book is loved with nicks, frays, and rips.

Yesterday was my birthday. I invited friends over for a dinner of soup, bread, and salad. After the eating, we would go outside into the cold, woods on snowshoes under the bright no-longer-quite-full moon. What a wonderful idea for a story, I thought (as I often do.) That’s when I remembered that the story of my birthday had already been written.

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I spent the day cleaning (like Little Bear) and preparing for guests who would taste my Butternut Squash, Apple, Curry soup. While no cat, duck, or hen was in attendance, I too found myself surrounded by loving and supportive friends. In Little Bear’s story, he searches for Mother Bear who is absent. My mother and father are, thank goodness, far away from the snowy north and the recent storm. I am currently without partner or spouse. My children are with their father this week. My friends’ discussion of me having to make my own birthday dinner was laced with sympathy and pride, but I have gotten used to and most of the time enjoy my solitude. I didn’t imagine the evening any other way. Plus, I was able to create just what I wanted without any convincing or compromising––Birthday Soup.

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At the end of Little Bear’s story, Mother Bear arrives with the cake that she secretly created. That was why she had been absent all along. For me, that magic happened before the guests arrived. My sons came by to bake me a cake and decorate it.

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When we get together later this week, we will celebrate together… all over again.

Chocolate cake with peanut butter, caramel icing and chocolate covered pretzels.
Chocolate cake with peanut butter, caramel icing and chocolate covered pretzels.

Tomorrow Night! Local Rowing Inside & Out

Hey Friends! Some of you may know that in addition to writing for children and young adults, I also am the Program Coordinator and Coach for Merrymeeting Community Rowing Association (MCRA). Tomorrow night, I’m presenting Local Rowing Inside & Out at the LLBean Camping Atrium in Freeport, Maine at 7pm. I’ll discuss local rowing opportunities, and MCRA’s programing. A significant portion of the time will be dedicated to a workshop demonstration of proper rowing technique and effective fitness training using the indoor rowing machine that sulks in the corner of your gym’s aerobic room. Wear fitness clothing and come learn how to row!

Rowing Poster

Single Parenting: Life is messy.

Thanks to Black Girl in Maine I read an article about Instagram Moms. I blog, Tweet, and Facebook so I don’t have a lot of time to put into Instagram but after seeing the beautiful images in the article I took a quick look around my little house and laughed. Okay, I guffawed. Branding your family? Let’s get real, I thought.

Since the divorce, I have had my kids basically every other week (which has been a tremendous change and emotionally seismic shift after being an all the time Navy mom with an often detached  or deployed spouse.) When the kids are to arrive I do a thorough cleaning. Toilets get scrubbed, I make my bed, laundry is done, even if it languishes unfolded and the boys have to scavenge for underwear.

When they are not here, I try not to hold myself hostage to my good-girl proclivities. There’s no one to impress anyway and my writing is the most important thing. The mail stacks up along with the TBR (To Be Read) pile. Right now I’m starting a new writing project so my resource books and notes, journals and plotting tools litter my tiny desk. I eat in front of the TV at night and binge on House of Cards while tweeting and checking in on Facebook friends to relax .

So to all the Instagram Moms this is how one Single Writer Mom lives.

 

The Revision Cave: All In

As a middle school educator I taught the writing process as a series of steps that separated “revision” from “editing.” Revision, I told my students had to do with answering the big questions that a reader had about your work. It was the writer’s chance to go deeper, be more specific, cut what didn’t work, be clear. Editing on the other hand was about the conventions: spelling, grammar, etc. (By the way if you teach writing I highly recommend Kate Messner’s, REAL REVISION)

At some point in the journey of my writing career, someone at some conference or workshop or lecture pointed out the obvious that the word revision is re-vision or “to see again in a new way.” I took on this definition as my mantra and thus, each revision has turned into a massive undertaking where I basically re-write a manuscript.

It doesn’t start that way. It usually starts with finding a better beginning. Beginnings are hard and many writers talk about a necessary writing to the end in order to fine tune a beginning again (and again). Of course, my fine tuning sets off a ripple effect throughout the entire manuscript. When faced with a section of manuscript that doesn’t work, I pinpoint the problem, I brainstorm solutions then I try it. (“Try it”–is another good piece of advice that can be an entrance to a revision blackhole.) How about a whole new character, Anna? And what if you add an epistolary element? What if, what if, what if…?

I’m pleased to say that I’ve been making steady progress in the revision cave for the last two weeks! My word count each day has hovered around 1000 as I reorder, rewrite, and rediscover the story I am trying to tell. I am going deeper, being more specific, cutting what didn’t work, being clear. Here are a few other things that I’m working on that you might notice in your work:

Where Does the Scene End:
I often end a scene where it will make a good chapter ending–one that doesn’t let the arc of that scene come to resolution, one that keeps the reader a little on their toes. This is a good thing unless, I haven’t given the reader everything they need. When I haven’t, I seem to start the next scene with a quick summation of what the reader missed. Sometimes this info is crucial to the emotional arc of the character. It should have happened “in-scene.” I am looking for these places in the work and rewriting to show the emotions instead.

Tension Makes Me Tense:
I am a pantser by nature but recent workshops with David Macinnis Gill and re-readings of Vogler’s,THE WRITER’S JOURNEY, and McKee’s, STORY have reminded me that plotting and outlining helps. I struggle to make the tension rise throughout a story and sometimes fall into and episodic (good fodder for another post) form of story telling. In this revision, I’ve listed the steps of the hero’s journey and jotted down the scenes that will happen at each of these crucial points. This organizing tool has been incredibly helpful. I’ve also written out what I see as my MC’s controlling belief (an idea I gleaned from Kathi Appelt and Franny Billingsley ) and I’ve added to that a question that describes her emotional arc. I make sure that each scene addresses in someway my MC’s belief and question (and desire but that’s also another post). This forces me to stay on track in the plotting.
Controlling belief: My mother left because she thought I was ugly and useless.
Question: Am I worthy of people’s love?

I guess these are similar but it has helped me.

Who Hates You Baby:
As students we learned the different types of conflict: man v. man, man v. self, man v. society, man v. nature, man v. machine. (Man! We’ll assume that is short for human.)
I was convinced that my book was MC v. self but part of the lack of tension in my manuscript came from the lack of a clear antagonist. I struggled with this idea, but in this revision I’ve chosen to clarify the antagonist and amp up the adversarial nature of their relationship.

I’ll be back in the revision cave come Monday but for now… out of the cave and into the mountains!

Copyright: fredlyfish4 / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: fredlyfish4 / 123RF Stock Photo