Friday, November 15, 2013

I'm on Vine!

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Confession Time: Why I'm Not Doing NaNoWriMo

   I am the opposite of consistent. Always have been. Won't always be, but unfortunately, currently I still am. This is why I am not participating in NaNoWriMo. Because a life time of bad habits and inconsistency has made it far more difficult that it should be to create positive new habits. And I am not saying that to take away from anyone else's struggle in creating good habits because I am fully aware it is difficult for all of us. It goes against the natural flow of things. The old adage being true that when we are not pushing forward we are inevitably falling backwards, there is no such thing as true stagnation when it comes to the human state of being. So all that to say, I'm not there yet. I have barely solidified my basic writing habit, and knowing myself I am acutely aware that I am very easily demotivated by increasing my self expectations to steeply and suddenly.

   So no to NaNoWriMo (which for my non-writer readers stands for National Novel Writing Month) for me this time around, BUT! I am using the inspiration provided by the gallant strivings of my fellow writers to increase my daily word count requirements. Why am I telling you this? I mean other than that this mostly vacant blog you happen to be reading is vaguely constructed to be about me and my life... which, thank you by the way to anyone who keeps checking back through this dry period, you rock! ...well I'm telling you in order to gain some leverage on myself. A bit of external accountability.

   The goal? 1,000 words per day 5 days a week. Or 20,000 new words, added to my novel in progress between November 1st and 11:59pm on November 30th. For a little bit of perspective and brutal honesty about my progress so far, I started my novel in late June on the beginners, snails pace, first draft in a year plan of 350 words a day 5 days a week and I started November with 45,000 words. The goal is to have 65,000 by month end. That's big. Not NaNoWriMo 50,000 words in a month big, but it's huge for me. So I am crowd sourcing support. And also offering up some of my own. 

   If you're like me and can only focus on one endeavor at a time and constantly find everything else in your life falling apart when you consciously decide to put in the effort to improve one specific area, then lets band together. Tell me in the comments what area of your life you're trying to accomplish something in this month. Where you want to be by November 30th at 11:59pm and also what other areas of your life you are unwilling to drop in the name of this goal. Do you want to get on track with a family meal plan but don't want to get so caught up in it that dinner is perfect but you're so tired at the end of the meal that bedtime routines with the kids get pushed aside and everyone falls asleep in the living room watching TV afterwords? Do you want to get consistent with fitness and not derail your important personal relationships during holiday eating season? Lets cheer each other on.

   Where do we start? Here's something invaluable that was recommended to me that I'd like to pass along. Get fanatical if you have to, but schedule it. Schedule your priorities in 30 min increments. It sounds rigid but it's actually really freeing, even for, if not especially for, us creative types.

   Here's a free handout geared towards students that is actually good for any and all of us.

    I'm starting mine this week and would love to have some other people along for the ride to troubleshoot with. Let's see where we can get together by month end?

You in? Thought so.

Ready, Set.... GO!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Preschool is a Chaotic Kind of Poetry

A little over a week ago my son turned three. THREE. This morning that three year old, my husband and myself all piled in the car, after snapping a few pictures, and drove to the next town over for a certain someone's first day of preschool.

 No one cried. It was calm. There was excitement and nervousness and nostalgia certainly, but they were wrapped up in this unnerving sense of normalcy.  

 Each moment though monumental in some ways, was just a moment and we were all just people. That feeling of seriousness, importance... gravity, it never stretches out through a whole event like you expect it to. Not weddings or births or even deaths.

 It moves in and out of you like the tide. Ebbing when it's time to wash hands or for reminders to walk, not run. Flowing when you catch glances with your kid in the sea of kids doing something that shows their newly acquired age. You beam with pride in the same instant as you experience an invisible punch to the gut. The punch of three years full of minutes missed to minutia.

But over it all danced the quietness of time. The silencing effect a ticking clock has over all other sounds once noticed by ears that want nothing more to linger on the laughter of their children.

 It is this knowledge of the unceasing nature of time that makes the magical things in life seem mundane and the mundane things seem magical.

Signing in for the first time, hanging up his backpack, his introduction to his classmates and ours to their parents. It all seemed too airy and fleeting. Nothing concrete in them. Nothing that felt like the making of a memory.

 But the tug in my heart between jumping in to assist and instruct or holding back on purpose in order to let him learn to look to his teacher for those things. That felt big. 

Knowing he was once this precious pressure in my belly as I watched him learn the terrain of this new environment as I sat silently on the sidelines? That felt deafeningly big.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Subtle Sexism in the World of Storytelling

   So here's the thing, I've been steering clear of this topic for a little while for the sake of maintaining my newly recovered state of mental health. It was one of the bigger, more easily identifiable, triggers that helped to initiate the plummet in my serotonin levels or what have you that happened several months back. It was fire that I just couldn't seem to stop playing with. Rape culture, oppression, misogyny it all felt so urgent and pressing... and honestly more than anything it felt noble. I felt like I was on a one woman crusade to make the world a better place and instead I just wound up rubbing my nose in all the most vile tendencies that we as human beings are capable of playing out in this real world of ours. I did that  long enough that my anger burned all the way out, bringing almost all of my other functional emotional states and capacities with it.

   The good news is that I'm mostly better now. The bad news is that in the meantime the problem didn't conveniently go away, nor did my desire to speak out on the problem(s). So, while I need to exert caution in the level to which I engage in these discussions, I also need to practice living in a world that isn't all or nothing. My propensity for obsession won't go away simply by avoiding any and every topic or trigger that could lead to such extreme mental preoccupation. Besides a new one will always come along to fill the void.

   So what's the point I'm getting at here? Well, all of the above being the case I have decided that I am re-opening my "series" on this wide-ranging, broad topic that can't be summed up in one word. BUT! I am doing this as less of a new direction for the blog itself as originally intended and definitely not as a restrictive, scheduled and structured thing. More of a this ish is important so I'll write about it when and where I can type of thing, being careful to keep in mind the crazy, wild wormholes that are present in this world of societal call-it-out commentary blogging.

Today's Topic at hand? The privilege of  dismissal.
Or something like that...

   Basically there's a nuance at play in this big picture that's been on my mind a lot lately that I haven't seen a lot of coverage on, though I haven't gone digging for it either, so I'm sure somebody somewhere already has... hopefully a lot of somebodies. This notion crystallized in my mind yesterday when I clicked a link in a tweet to a blog that linked to another blog so on and so forth until I was reading this amazing article from May of 2012 by Greg Rucka, writer of comics and novels, titled "Why I Write Strong Female Characters". If you haven't had the pleasure of reading it, stop what you're doing and go there. Now. Seriously, he hits so many great points and does it intelligently and articulately in a way I can only hope to come close to myself in the rest of this already too-long post of mine.

Okay, good. Back to the point. Which is this:

   Our world is currently set up in such a way that it is considered a given that women are, on almost every level, expected to attempt to understand and relate to men, where they are at, without question. It is so much the norm that male characters, male attributes, male desires are assumed to be the standard. Women are all but forced to understand Men but men are allowed a pass from even attempting to understand women in a lot of ways. Yes, women are complicated. But guess what, that's because of our humanity not necessarily because of our gender. There may be some areas in which the female make-up tends more towards extra layers that seem hard to comprehend on a surface level, but it is way more often than not used as a flippant excuse to not try. To write it off. To write US off. To dismiss thoughts, feelings, desires and needs that lean toward the feminine end of the spectrum.

The part of Rucka's post that reminded me of this issue I've been wanting to address was this quote in particular:
There's a second part to the question. The unspoken part.
It's the part where I'm being asked and not, say, Laura Lippman. Because Laura is a woman, and it's presumed therefore that she knows how to write about women, what with having been one her entire adult life. By the same token, Laura Lippman is not asked how it is she can write such convincing, strong male characters. Implicit in her job as a crafter of fiction is the demand that she must. No question need be asked.

   In general it seems that women are made to seem mystical and mysterious or are dismissed as silly and insubstantial. Both extremes have the same effect, giving men an out from the task of attempting to understand and relate to women in ways that are more meaningful than temporary surface efforts to pacify women. It's ok for men to dismiss storytelling about women under the guise that it's only for women. It's considered normal for men to classify anything with a strong female lead, or feminine tone as a "chick flick" or any storyline with a love story that focuses on the female character's perspective or desires as "romance" (and understand I don't mean disrespect to these genres... quite the opposite in fact), as an easy excuse to opt out.

   Maybe we're all missing something in this whole male / female brain-wiring gender gap thing. Maybe most men who inadvertently play in this dismissal of femininity and opt out of the responsibility to understand their fellow earth-mates that is expected of women is actually something else all together. Maybe men are more complicated than they want to let on too... my theory is not fully formulated yet, but I think it's something worth considering that maybe just maybe the cliche' that "women don't know what they want" (so we don't have to either) is true of men as well. Maybe just maybe they dismiss feminine things because they assume we really do want those things all to ourselves. To have an all girls club in some areas. It would explain why so many men get so defensive when women are interested in things they once thought to be exclusively masculine, all the while hoping to have their chosen significant other share their interests.

   The thing is however, that even if this were the case, it's still no excuse. So let me say from my perspective as one lone woman, that I don't. Sure I like having some things to myself... that one box of chocolates that nobody else is allowed to touch, that show I want to watch when nobody else is around because, no, I don't want to hear anybody elses opinion on it. But when it comes to the female experience I absolutely do want you to try your damnedest to understand. To be systematically and personally dismissed doesn't make me feel like I have a fun little secret with my female counterparts. It only ever feels like men just don't care enough to try to relate. So far as I can tell one thing that is present in most women is the desire to be known and loved. The attitude that men can't, and worse, shouldn't have to relate to us is at the very least hurtful... but more important it's extremely damaging. To women, to girls and to our culture on the whole. Which side note, means it's damaging to men too.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

On Character, Desire and Actions

   There are seasons in our lives when we repeatedly have our noses rubbed in the horrors that lie in our own hearts, and it aches us to know that we can feel and think such disturbingly selfish things. It's easy during these times to discount our efforts to make the right decisions and act in honorable ways because we know that our in our heart we really, REALLY don't want to... and the fact that we don't want to hurts almost as much as the painful circumstances that call us to act in the first place.

   I put together this quote/image thing for all of you going through such times right now, and for those who have in the past or will in the future. I want to remind everyone in such a situation first and foremost that you are a good person for even caring about the state of your heart. For desperately wanting your motivations to come from absolute kindness and not obligation. That is worth a mirror high five in and off itself.

   Now, take a deep breath and do the thing you already know in that conflicted heart of yours to be right. The corresponding feelings will come along when they are good and ready. Sometimes all it takes for your emotions to change is an inciting action, and sometimes it takes being able to look back knowing you did the right thing anyway. Either way? You've got this!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

20,000 Words

Photo edit by Jason Frega
   About a month ago something magical happened... and I have held off writing about it specifically, and in a lot of cases even talking about it, because truth be told I am superstitious and suspicious and  fearful that by nature things don't tend to last. Most things don't, but there are plenty of things that do. Important things. Good things. Being fearful that acknowledging good changes in our lives will somehow change their status as a permanent thing, or speed the process bringing about an almost immediate departure time if those things were meant to be temporary, doesn't really do much in the way of allowing us the freedom to enjoy those things whatever they may be.

   So here's my good thing: writing healed the brokenness in my mind. Not all my problems and not just any kind of writing... but another big shift took place, this time in a really good direction, and I am damn grateful for it. If you were here back in April you most likely read my post in which I admitted that I had fallen back into a state of depression. I sought help like I said I would, I am still seeing a therapist (although less frequently now) and I am still experiencing anxiety attacks (something I actually didn't mention in that post) from time to time, but... BUT! Things are so much better lately. So. Much. Better.

    So, how did writing "heal my head problems"? Well, I received a very helpful recommendation that at the time felt akin to being backed into a corner, but when I responded in trust and stepped in a direction I thought to be backwards, on faith, I found a freedom I haven't known for a long, long time. I was told to funnel my writing efforts in a different direction. A direction that didn't involve direct self introspection or digging into seriously triggering topics anymore, at least for a time. Those things weren't bringing the joy and release that writing had always been for me. Sure it helped me work out my thoughts and crystallize my beliefs on many different topics. But it ceased helping me process my emotions. And that felt like a great big gaping loss.

   In the discussion which this recommendation stemmed from the word fiction was mentioned, and it scared me. It scared me because I had always held fiction up on a pedestal. I didn't trust my mind to formulate ideas worthy of weaving into a story. I had spent years adding more and more constraints to my writing, newer higher standards (that didn't fit my purpose) and ultimately I tried to force my idea of what I would do with this gift that I cherish, into a box that it didn't belong in. A box that allowed me very little room to breathe.

   I did the same thing in many other areas of my life as well, and together all those pieces, those misplaced principles, thoughts and beliefs, built a wall that when fully formed began to cut off my air supply. The good news is that the wall has come down and although a little damage was done in the process it made rebuilding a possibility.

   I am reading fiction again after a long self-imposed, guilt-ridden hiatus. I am also writing fiction for the first time since maybe Middle School. In fact if you follow me on Twitter or are a fan of my Facebook page then you may have already seen the news that I have officially broken the 20,000 word mark on my very first fiction novel. Will it be worthy of publishing when it's done? When I've done all the editing, re-writes, more editing, revisions, and even more editing necessary to turn a draft into an actual book? I don't know for sure. But I'm finally doing the right work. The work that I feel like I was always meant to be doing. I am writing 5 days a week, a minimum of 350 words a day, usually quite a lot more. Eventually that will all add up to a finished first draft, which I know to be only the beginning of a long journey. A journey that I am now officially on. That knowledge alone is enough for me in this moment.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Inner Editor and the Art of Selective Hearing

Sometimes Much of the time I hear voices.

Not audible voices that are indistinguishable from the ones emanating from real people in my life. Nor do they come from animals or inanimate objects. So from the mental health perspective I'd have to say I'm safe. Or at least the most quantifiable pieces and parts that collectively add up to what one would call my sanity is. Safe. From these voices.


But there is a part of me that is not safe if something isn't done to keep said voices in check. That part is the writer in me. Which now that we're talking about it, is a part that is pretty deeply interwoven with all the other vitals that keep me ticking. Neglect the part for long enough and it's implosion, explosion or what have you tends to take the whole down with it. Perhaps not completely. Maybe not all at once. But enough to cause some serious impairments.

So lets talk about how to avoid that shall we?

Being that I happen to be in the metaphorical repair shop (therapy) myself as I type this, dealing with some of the fallout that can happen when you let the voices dictate the volume control for too long, I can at least speak to what doesn't work.

Your inner editor.

The problem with it is that it is both incredibly valuable and incredibly dangerous. Necessary, but like a whiny toddler who made a Mom out of a woman with dormant motherly instincts, if allowed to run the show it will grind all productivity and progress to a halt. It leaves you overwhelmed with the knowledge of responsibility and utterly exhausted despite your love for the gift of the role. After that toddler has been given an inch and taken twenty miles over the course of a day 6:00pm rolls around and you feel like you're preparing dinner in a straight jacket. Absolutely no room to breathe or think straight... or do anything normal of a sane person. You give in more because the results of all the previous giving in has left you wanting to cry in a corner wondering how any parent has ever made it out alive ever. In all of history. Or you snap and become angry mom.

That is what happens when you let your inner editor run loose on content you haven't written yet. It shuts you down at every pass, stalls you up and creates a self-fulfilling writers block the likes of which couldn't be overcome with 50 typewritters and a kitchen full of coffee and wine.

Or it turns you into a critic... but I won't go too far in that direction except to say that you know you're heading down that dead end path when you start wanting to rampage through your closest Barnes & Noble knocking books off the shelves left and right laughing maniacally as you do because "They're all filth! Garbage!" and "Aren't there any real writers left? ARGH!"

Here's the thing. You can't be good until you let yourself suck for a while first.

Give yourself a pass.

Give yourself a chance.

You can't measure up to the great writers of all time right now, as you are, and that's okay. I know you want to. I do too. But holding your unedited first paragraph of an unwritten first draft up against the standard of a completed work done by someone who probably wrote more a day that you've written this year isn't going to inspire you to do better. it's going to shut you right down. Or at least that's what it does to me, and I'm guessing you're not too far off.

Editing as you go has it's place, and I'm not even going to begin to pretend that I won't continue to do it to some small extent moving forward. BUT! Rereading what you just typed after every sentence or two? That's for social media comment sections and perhaps short to medium length blog posts. Twitter? please, please do. Since you've only got 140 characters you don't have much to sit on. But speaking as a blogger who has only ever written essay-styled pieces and poetry until recently, because she let her inner editor control the volume knob for most of her adult life, write fiction with the editor just barely off mute.


Throw away all those little inspirational quotes you've got floating around in your head like "If you don't have time to do it right the first time when will you have time to fix it" and other such well meaning bravado. It. Doesn't. Apply.

Not here. Not for what you're doing. Because what your doing is the thing that actually makes you a writer. You're writing.

And here's a secret. First Drafts always suck.

When the editor in your brain says "not good enough", "cliché"  or "who do you think you are, calling yourself a writer? You're the the Queen of bad grammar and run-on sentences!" tell it "I'll fix it later"

Seriously. Four little words. I'll fix it later.

Because here's the greatest part. You can. No one has to see your process if you don't want them to. You don't have to show your work to anybody until you're sure you've puttied all the holes and painted over all the scuff marks. Heck you don't have to show anybody at all ever, if it really winds up sucking as bad as you think it does.

If you worry about what Grandma or your grown up children will think while you're trying to write, your work will be disjointed and inhibited if it amounts to anything at all.

If you worry about the impact the quality of this book will have on the marketplace reception of every future book you may ever write, someday, in the distant future, while you're writing this one? Good luck carrying the weight of that pack on your back my friend.

Do yourself a favor and put that straight jacket on your inner editor where it belongs until your finished draft has sat on your desk at least long enough for you to have one very well deserved celebratory drink.

I will see you at that finish line.

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