Thursday, December 31, 2009


Walking Man is right to ask "What New Year?"... after all, few of us are changing jobs (except you, Amanda!), or moving, or truly changing anything. 

I know what will happen, though. Millions of us will "resolve" to do this year differently. Suddenly, instead of the YMCA being mostly empty in the evenings, it will be so packed that I can't find a parking space, can't get into the zumba class, can't even find a stupid treadmill or square of clear space to stretch out on, etc.

(I've actually dropped my membership for the next few months, for that very reason. Why pay for something I can't even use?)

A bunch more people will drink themselves into oblivion tonight, "resolving" to do better January 1, like that is some magical stamp which will enable them to somehow change who they are and what they do from what they have always been and always done. Will it work? 

Have you ever known it to work? Has it ever worked for you?

Can anyone, through sheer will power, change who one is? If a person hates exercise, January 1 isn't going to magically change that. If one loves cheesecake or ice cream enough to gain 40 lbs. last year, a great January filled with good choices is not going to lose the 40 lbs., and even if it does, without real everyday change, that weight will come back on. 

Yes, I want to do this year better. I would love to be published, and I'll only get there if I send my stuff out (and work on it a whole lot more than I did last year). I'm months from turning 40, and I've always worked under the shadow of losing precious time. But I can't resolve to send out something new every day, or write for at least an hour every day, or exercise every day, or be a good mom every day. I can promise to eat every day, but sometimes that's all I ever get done.

My resolution? Live every day. If that means writing, then it does. If that leads to exercise, all right then. If it means singing, great. Painting? Fine, too. But I'm not going to strive for perfection. I'm not going to kick myself over a missed opportunity. I won't regret. 

And I won't resolve this year. Today is all I'm concerned with. Just today.

I know my thoughts of future goals will creep in. They always do. I don't have to fear that I will let the world go completely, not meet my obligations, and not get things done. I am incapable of laziness. But I'm tired of worrying. I'm tired of looking back and seeing all I haven't yet gotten done. I'm sick of being disappointed in myself. 

Okay, perhaps, despite all my best efforts, I've unwittingly resolved something (darn it!). Still, I won't worry about that. I'm off to live today. Hope you do the same.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009



More than a domestic goddess
Able to refinish furniture
Bake anything
Tile bathroom floors
She, the stylish
Flirtatious dancing goddess
Graceful, loving,
Full of passion
Yet to most, her truest essence
Not nearly
Even if his shy eyes
Suggest he has nothing to say
Inside his brain’s a
Deep cavern of experience
Of wisdom
Seeing the world as only a few
Old souls perceive it
Rich, intelligent,
But to all his friends
While others click their tongues
And say, “Poor thing,”
She seethes inside with life
And art and music
Dismissed by all
She paints in private,
Writes and dances
Late into the night
Driven to create
But certain to keep each effort
And so we go
Misunderstood and overlooked
Each one
In tune with the magic of the earth
Yet silent in a crowd
Keeping all beneath our surface
Playing safe
Afraid of what will happen
If even once we do not keep
Who we are

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Five Senses of Christmas

Now that the remains of my daughter's cookie party are almost gone (can you sense my relief?), the Christmas cards have all been sent, the shopping is done, and only five presents have not yet been wrapped and put under the tree, I can sit back and just enjoy the season.

Actually, I've been enjoying the season all along, with all of my senses. I've written several entries on description, but Christmas has unique elements all its own. My "Five Senses" list:

  The lit-up Christmas tree. I use all white lights, and my ornaments 
are pretty much cream, gold, and red. Velvet and brocade ribbons, 
gold chains of bells, and gold beads. Of course, I love almost every 
Christmas tree--I just love my own most of all.

  Christmas music. I have everything from grunge rock versions 
to Vienna Choir Boys, John Denver to Nelson Eddy (thanks to my 
sis, who's a big fan of his). I love it all. Only the Chipmunks one 
gets on my nerves.

Taste: Gingerbread is number one, especially with white icing.

  The smoothness of a wrapped package. I try to box everything, 
even clothing, so that the corners are all crisp and the sides smooth. 
And, yes, I stroke them. 

  Scotch tape. Yes, I love the smell of a wood fire, too, but scotch 
  tape reminds me of Christmas in the middle of July. I wrapped 
  presents with my mother when I was a very young kid, and wrapping 
  presents is still one of my favorite activities. That pleases my hubby 
  to no end, too, since it means he doesn't have to.

What are your favorite five sensations of Christmas? Don't be afraid to share!

Monday, December 21, 2009

What "Living in the Moment" Isn't

I posted a few days ago on living in the present--not regretting or glorifying what happened in the past, nor fixating on how things will be different in the future--so as to seek happiness in the ever-present NOW

To clarify this a bit, I'd like to take a leaf from the book of Taoism to describe my approach to this form of living. I am by no means an expert, but Taoism, from my reading and experience, suggests a life in which one remains "receptively passive" to the movement or flow of life, and when one acts, it is in accordance with the flow of one's life, and is thus effortless. When one fights against the flow, one finds difficulty, suffering, unhappiness, etc. 

Let me put it in terms of relationships. To live in the ever-present now, one would exist in a way that is most calm and harmonious to one's nature and the nature of others. That does not mean never disagreeing. If, for instance, one's partner is a creep, it may seem more harmonious to shut up about it and take it--whether it be abuse, derision, abandonment, etc. However, it is damaging to oneself, and doesn't go with one's personal needs. Resentment and anger will build until you can't take it anymore, and then the flow of need will cause you to act out eventually.

Living in the moment, in this case, means not resisting the urge to speak up. Resisting the urge is hard, and it hurts the current moment. Instead, one should speak up and say, directly, "When you say this/do this/etc. I feel hurt and ashamed." At the same time, it does not mean bringing up all sorts of past hurts--those are past, and the reason one might be bringing them up is because one has held onto them instead of expressing them when they occur. It's the same with positive elements. When one is happy, one should express so, and share the joy of one's life with others. If another's actions hurt one's flow, by all means one should act to change that flow, even it means leaving. The release I've heard described from this kind of action (leaving a creep) is caused because a major obstruction has been removed.

In terms of money, living in the moment does not mean racking up credit card balances so that one can go on a vacation "now," without consideration for the future debt or insolvency. In fact, I would contend that purchases on credit are actually living in the future, and not the present, for one's subconscious reasoning is that a larger TV, a new dining room set, or a McMansion will make one happier, and it suggests that one is dissatisfied with one's life as it is. Living within one's means is one way of existing within the flow of one's life. Seeking to purchase items one cannot yet afford goes against one's flow. Buying a house and having payments one cannot afford is a gaping example of this, and it does not increase one's happiness (as many thousands of homeowners will attest to). 

Even in terms of food and exercise, living in the moment means paying attention to right now--not one's future goals, but one's eating right at this moment. If I truly live in the now, I eat only when I'm hungry--and I enjoy every tasty morsel of food while I eat it, not working on the computer or watching television while I do it, but savoring everything. It means enjoying my activity--whether walking with a friend or doing zumba or bellydancing--and it means living in that moment happily, without constantly looking in the mirror or stepping on the scale to see whether it's doing any good. If I am only living in the future ("I want to lose 10 pounds") or living in the past ("I don't ever want to be that fat again") I will not be happy now. 

And now is what counts. Past is past, future is future. We can't live in either one. I don't write because I want to get published some day. I write because I love it, and when I do it, I am happy. 

Thoughts? Bones of contention? 

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What I Want for Christmas

I'm certainly not the first to think of this. As most of you are aware, I already posted both of my children's Santa letters on this blog. But my son reminded me of it last night when he asked me, "So, Mom, how will you feel when you open all your presents on Christmas morning?"

Before I could even answer, his eyebrows wrinkled. "Hey, wait. You don't have any presents under the tree."

"True," I admitted. He must have checked every package ten times already.

He shrugged, said, "Then I guess you won't feel anything," and walked off. Already a sensitive boy.

I could have explained that I really feel too old to get a bunch of Christmas presents. I could explain that my husband detests being surprised, and while I like being surprised, I also hate presents (in general), mainly because they were a guilt-ridden ploy for love in my childhood. 

But I do want things. Okay, not things, but things.

I want a novel published. This is my most selfish of wishes, but it is one nonetheless. I won't get it for Christmas. I can't even guarantee I'll get it by the end of next year, or ever. 

I want to be a better writer, and to spend more time writing. One is directly connected to the other, but I continually face the nasty voices in my head telling me that my writing will never get any better (and that it's pretty lame to begin with). The voices make me reluctant at times to face the computer, even to write a blog, and they attack the other idea as well, that practice will improve my skill. This wish is directly related to the one above.

I want my son to adjust to school in a happier way. I can't make that happen, but I am doing what I can to help him.

I want people who are out of work to get jobs. Sure, I'd like something full-time, but I can handle it because my husband provides well. Still, it would be so much better if people who are out of work are employed. They'll be happier, more productive, and they'll make the rest of us happier, too.

I want people to be truly happy. Not just friends, either. I'm just fine with not so great people being happy, for their happiness may make them nicer. I am convinced that most mean people are mean because they are hurt inside and cannot resolve their own unhappiness.

What is it you most want? I'd love to know...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Are We There Yet?

Kids are notoriously incapable of telling time. When my daughter was around three, anything that had once happened to her, including wearing diapers and living in another state, happened "last night." For her favorite friend Dorienne, everything in the past was "yesterday." All past events could be grouped in one single amorphous PAST that floats seamlessly from just a second ago to the very day the child was born.

Children are as time-goofy in the other direction, as well. Just try telling a child he's going to visit his grandma's, but not until next week. Without fail, the child will wake you earlier than normal the next morning, informing you that his bag is all packed for the stay at grandma's, and you need to feed him some toast before both of you leave on the trip. What's a week? Seven days? Is that the same as seven minutes? Oh, longer? More like ten minutes? No? Fifteen? What? How long is that?

The anxiety can be tremendous, for three minutes in time out feels to a three-year-old like a day and a half. Oh, when will the happy moment come when I don't have to sit here on this timeout bench anymore? When is daddy coming home? When is breakfast? Yum. When's lunch? What do you mean I have to wait four hours?!?

Driving trips are the same. Are we there yet? How long is this going to take? What town are we in now? (That last one is my kids' personal favorite, and I name off the towns as we go by... Monroe, Snohomish, Woodinville, Bothell, Bellevue, and so on.)

I could keep on criticizing my kids, but it isn't their fault. They truly cannot grasp the concept of time until their brains develop a bit more. In fact, even as adults we don't grasp time well. My husband, for instance, thinks that time runs more slowly than it actually does (and is therefore nearly always late). A student once tested me with regards to time keeping, and my task was to tell her when I thought 60 seconds had passed. I waited, waited, in silence, stressing out, afraid 60 seconds had long since passed. I finally couldn't take the strain and said, "Now." It turns out 36 seconds had passed. As you might guess, I'm habitually early for everything.

But it isn't just deadlines that have us mixed up. We still so often get caught up in what is coming in the future, so much so that we forget to look around and enjoy what is happening right now. I have done this countless semesters (as have my students), telling myself that once I get my grades all turned in I can relax. Or I say, this semester was awful, but next semester is going to be great. Or, I don't like where I live now, but the next place I live will be perfect. My next job will be ideal. My next house will be exactly what I want. My child's next teacher will be better.

But is anything as spectacular as we imagine, when we bank our soul's happiness on it to that extent? 

I just turned in my grades today (yahoo!), but even before this milestone, my life's been pretty good, including the finals to grade and underachieving students to reprimand. My daughter turns nine in two days, and I don't have any expectations about what that will mean for her. I just want to enjoy her now, at this very moment. Right now I am enjoying watching her sleep with the little Christmas tree in her room at this very moment. 

I hope she's not dreaming about someday. I hope she's dreaming about now.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Finishing My Novel Today!

I have hemmed and hawed about this stupid novel for too long. I'd hoped to finish it before Thanksgiving, and yet I am still at least two pages from being finished. It's going to take at least ten to finish the thing the way I want, but I'm carving out the whole morning and early afternoon to do it, no matter what. I'm taking my kids to school in about an hour, driving home, and sitting here until this thing is DONE.

I have so many other projects I want to start on, monologues for contests, plays destined for staged readings in the near future, another novel, a revision of my third novel so that I can enter it in the Breakthrough Novel Contest, and so on. Plus, I have a huge canvas ready so that I can paint a painting for Crystal's new decorating ideas in her room. And I have two novels by other authors that I need to be reading soon (is yours almost ready, Rocket?). All of these things are waiting for this revision to get done, and I'm antsy because I'm not doing it.

So, here it is, the ultimatum: 

You won't see me here tomorrow--and I won't even allow myself to comment on any of your blogs--unless my novel is done. End of story. 

I will do everything possible to be here, but if I'm not, know that I am working hard to finish this %&$#)@ novel revision. 

Monday, December 14, 2009

Monday Fun-Day!

I know how most of us approach Mondays. My husband moans and groans starting on Sunday afternoon, upset that his lazy weekend has to end and he has to face traffic, dress up, and spend the day in meetings or bossing people around (in gentle ways, of course). The temptation is to grimly face a whole week of working, knowing it will be DAYS before you get to wear those sweats all day. 

Why not approach this differently? Make a pact to go out to eat every Monday night, or take somebody to lunch at work, or carve out an hour in the afternoon to work on that novel/play/poem/painting/etc. The only watchable television is Monday Night Football, and that is only watchable for a specific viewing audience, so turn it off and play a game with the kids, or curl up to a good book you've been saving. 

I'm planning on doing absolutely NO real work today. I'm saving the class grading tasks for tomorrow (several script analyses, and discussion grades for the entire semester), and except for doing the dishes (only because I have no clean spoons), I don't intend to lift a finger I don't want to. No wrapping trash, no cat box cleaning (sorry, Skooker), no work. I might spend the morning watching the three remaining episodes of BBC's "Robin Hood" (insert drooling here), or reading, or finishing up my novel revising, or whatever. 

And don't tell me, "Well, some of us have to go to work." Yes, you do, but that doesn't mean you have to do much when you are there, or do it with a lousy attitude. And whatever you do, make it fun. Laugh. Be lazy. Or if being lazy brings you down, work super hard, cross everything off your list, and then leave an hour early so that you can pick up a few videos on the way home. (Videos? On a Monday? Are you kidding? No, I'm not!)

Don't accept your Monday as it is. Make it into something you actually want to do. Become your own Pollyanna, and make your Monday great enough that you look forward to the next one.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Awful Theatre and an Awful Legend

We went to "one of Seattle's best kept secrets" last night, a little light-filled holiday park called the Lights of Christmas, and as part of it, we saw a premier of Miracle on Candy Cane Street, written and directed by the leader of a local community theatre troupe. 

It was awful. It was painful. The stage was filled with child actors (mixed in with a few adults), the audience was filled with their relatives, and my husband and I found ourselves glancing at each other at nearly every line. The audience loved it. My kids loved it. They laughed at the almost complete unintelligible villain, who was dressed in a black satin cape, of all things, like the villain in a melodrama. (I kept waiting to see the Boo! Hiss! signs.) He was French, and we know how inherently evil French people are. The song numbers were stolen from Enchanted, The Lion King, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (no, really!), and the plot of the play was more contrived than my smile when my husband's discussing every hole of a golf game he just played.

I could go into more detail, but I won't, for I don't want this to get too long. Besides, the worst part of the play wasn't the performance, it was the play's pseudo-Christian premise, the "Legend of the Candy Cane." 

In case you are unfamiliar with this, and you love candy canes, please stop reading now. Really. Just stop. Even writing this down is enough to gag me, so if you continue on, know that you have been warned. 

The "legend" states that the candy cane symbolizes Jesus. And here's the proof:
1. It is in the shape of a shepherd's staff, symbolizing both his birth and that he is "our shepherd." 
2. If you turn it the other way, it's a "J" for Jesus.
3. The white of it symbolizes his purity.
4. It has three red stripes, to represent the Holy Trinity.

It's this last one that really kills me, though:

5. The stripes are red, to symbolize Christ's blood.

Ack! Gag! I haven't eaten yet this morning, or I know I'd be chucking it up (sorry, Stephanie!). Why this last thought is such a comfort to people is beyond me, especially when they put one of those little canes into their mouth and suck all the red off it! It's as offensive as the Easter when a well-meaning relative gave me a chocolate cross. I'm supposed to eat a chocolate cross? This is how I'm supposed to celebrate Christ, by sucking his blood and chomping down on the thing he was crucified on? 

It's a good thing I hate candy canes. I don't think I will ever eat one again. 

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Sweater, a Poem

I haven't done this in a while, but I felt compelled. Poems creep into me slowly, stewing, and then pop out rather suddenly. 

Here's this one:

The Sweater 

Your mother knitted it

Filling it with a sad mistrust,

Running along a few blue stripes

Of self-hate.


Others fashioned it with

Pins and needles

To poke at you

To prick you.


But you wore it all those years,

Hoping somehow

The warmth of your skin

Would soften those needles

That everyone one would get along

If only you tried a bit harder.


It itched and bled you

Hurt and maimed you

Strangled you around the neck

Too tightly woven.


You left the house

But took the sweater with you.

You wear it still,

Pretending it only tickles



If you only wore it long enough

The sweater would fit right.


But it’s too tight

And too loose

The garment isn’t very becoming.

(It makes you look a little fat)

And its garish pinks and gingers

Wash your face to pale.


Take that goddamn sweater off.

Can't you see it doesn’t fit you anymore?


Monday, December 7, 2009

Another Santa Letter

Have I told you lately how different my son and daughter are? Well, if you checked out the last letter by my daughter, you'll get to see for yourself in this letter below, written by my son (with my help spelling, since he's five). Here it is:

Dear Santa:

For Christmas, I want a little car that has any kind of color of stripes. And the other thing I want is a van that is a remote controller. And that’s it.

But I do want some more presents. A new lunchbox and a toy elf and no more. That’s done.

I love you, Santa.

Naturally, he neglected to remind Santa about all the fun times he's been having at school, on the bus, etc. For more info on that, see this post. He's probably hoping Santa won't know, or won't care, and won't shove a huge, anvil-sized lump of coal into his stocking, with a note reminding him that he's been naughty all year. 

Okay, so he hasn't been naughty all year. Just 89% of it. 

And Santa noticed. But Santa loves him anyway. 

Sunday, December 6, 2009

One Letter to Santa

I've been writhing still under too many papers and too much end-of-the-semester stress, and I have nothing truly brilliant to offer today, either. (But when do I have anything truly brilliant? I Hope that's not what you visit for!) My daughter wrote her letter to Santa, though, despite my insistence that Santa is "a very nice story," so here it is:

Dear Santa Claus:

       Hi! How are you doing? How are your reindeer doing? Is Rudolph okay? I hope you have a great Christmas. Are your elves working really hard? I’m glad your elves are making gifts for girls and boys that are good. You are so jolly.

       Were we good this year? I’m making this note to you. What do you like about Christmas? I like putting up our Christmas tree and getting Christmas ready in our house. I like talking to Grandpa on the computer when we are opening our presents. I like the snow because I get to throw snowballs and I like to make snow angels with my family. I like decorating the tree, too.

       This Christmas I would like some puzzles (with 30 pieces in them), a panda pillow pet, a sewing kit, a toy frog, and a big coloring book. What I really want is Operation SpongeBob and other games on the Wii, board games, a Nintendo DS, and a mini-laptop that Brandon and I are going to share. I’d also like a Fashion Holiday Barbie Doll, a painting and coloring kit, a Non-stop Glamour Barbie Minivan, and a Rudolf toy with a glowing nose.

        Have a happy Christmas, Santa Claus. Take a big, long nap, and I hope your reindeer have a fun time, too.

I think she might have made the whole letter small talk and never gotten around to the gifts if I hadn't reminded her why she was writing. I'll post my son's when he's done with his if it ends up even remotely interesting.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Update on Caisla

I told you I would update you on Caisla's condition. She is in stable condition, but because of brain swelling, they had to do surgery to open up her skull yesterday. Her brain has no "dead" sections, as far as the brain surgeon could tell, but its damage is "extensive." 

We are still waiting and watching, I from a long distance. I hope I do not have to fly to Kansas soon, for that would mean bad news.

I will let you know if anything comes up, but in the meantime I'll try to post happier things. Right now I'm up to my eyeballs in papers to be graded. 

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Prayers for Caisla

I know all of you are busy prepping for your Thanksgiving feast today, but my best friend Cherilyn's 15-year-old daughter Caisla was in a horrific car accident yesterday, and I wondered if you could help. She has suffered massive head injuries (the car was hit on the side, her side), and she has yet to regain consciousness. The doctors will likely do brain surgery today to alleviate the swelling.

While you are being thankful for your own children and families this morning, could you offer a little prayer for her (or, if you are not inclined to prayer, a bit of well wishes)? Caisla is a wonderful girl, and an only child, so this prayer would help out both her and her mother. 

If nothing else, hold your own children a bit more tightly today, as I will, and be thankful that they are safe and happy. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It's a Bird, It's a Plane! No, it's Kind Boy!

Why is it, with all of the academic and other challenges I've surmounted, my children end up being the greatest challenge of them all?

I came home ready to grade last night, ready to tear into around 50 essays. Too bad I checked my voicemail first. 

It was my son's principal, calling FIVE MINUTES AFTER SCHOOL STARTED to let me know that my son, my beautiful, bright 5-year-old son, had just mooned another boy on the bus. As the principal had ever so gently put it, my son dropped trow "down to the skin." Yes, my beloved son had done what no one in my family has ever done: shown his bare naked rump to various grades of complete strangers. 

Why? I wasn't to find that out when he came home, for he pulled the classic Bill Cosby rendition of "I don't know" (Brain Damage!). Of course, by then his teacher had e-mailed me to let me know his whole day had been rough, he'd called people names, said he "hated" some other kid in class, and further slips in his bag confirmed he had even carried his ugliness to the playground. 

I spoke to him, tearing up from embarrassment, telling him I was very disappointed, and he laughed and said I was faking. It was only after I left the room in tears that he began to cry himself. 

My husband called a friend of ours--a cop--and since that was exactly what my son wants to be when he grows up, the officer talked to my little hoodlum seriously, telling him doing stupid things like that would pretty much prevent him from being a cop. My son was respectful enough, the cop said, to prevent him from going to jail this time.

But all the threats, I sensed, were not going to work. I am beginning to realize that my five-year-old son is simply too smart for them, that he sees through B.S. the way I can see through the holes in an old pair of underwear. The key wasn't to scare him, it was to make being good FUN. 

Must think, think, think...

When he woke up this morning, I had a white undershirt waiting for him, to wear under his clothing (so that he could be in disguise). He would be Kind Boy, with a capital K, and his job as a superhero--with no superhero powers, he knowingly told his father--was to be kind to everybody. He would face the ugly remarks of classmates with silence and would resist his desire to say mean things, for, under his mild-mannered alter-ego, he was truly Kind Boy, spreading kindness wherever he went. 

So, what happened? He came home with a stellar report for the day, and he was even recognized with a sticker for his behavior three times

Of course, when he decides to go off the deep end, I'll have to think of something else... but for now, I'm glad to know something I've tried actually works (even if only for a day).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Writing that Novel

Just to let all of my five fans know, I'm very aware of how rarely I've been blogging, and my blogging may become even more sparse over the next month or so. I'm thirty pages from completing my revision of novel #2, and then I'm going to throw myself into writing novel #4... 

Which means I'm going to try to check out all of your blogs as much as I can, but I'm not going to be writing much here, unless it's to give all of you a report of how the writing is going (rather like a NaNoWriMo posting)... I just have to write, and I don't want the blog to get in the way of the novels. Neither will likely make me a cent in the long run, but I get such joy from writing the novels, I need to do so every chance I can.

I may float back to this in a bit, though, so don't take me off your follow list, please! I promise to keep in touch!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ending the World

Natural disasters are pretty frequent--although only a few times are they (supposedly) strong enough to affect the entire world. 2012 is only one of many films covering a supposed disaster on a global scale, and the causes may be both manmade and natural. 

Right now I am revising--and hopefully soon polishing--a book covering a modern-day Noah's ark story, inspired by the midwestern flooding that occurred a few years ago (a town just south of where I lived in Kansas was completely flooded--I know, I saw the aerial photographs). Is it the disaster I have always found most intriguing? Not really, but I find it intriguing at the moment (which is why I am writing about it). Flash Forward deals with an entirely different global event--yet these are only two examples. 

I'd like to turn it over to all of you, though, keeping in mind films and series like these--or books like Z for Zachariah and On the Beach, and my brother-in-law's new book Lightfall, which was just released last Friday (you can find it through Amazon, I think):

What natural and/or man-made disaster do you find most compelling? What event do you believe would most deeply affect you? 

I look forward to your responses... but don't let it all depress you. (And don't answer if it does depress you.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Good and the Bad

Perhaps you are self-aware enough to know your strengths. I would like to think that I am. I know that my first drafts (of anything) tend to stink pretty bad, but I also love revising. That is, perhaps, why I am so happily revising my novel instead of posting here every day. 

Most writers would commend me for my devotion to revision. And it is a strength. However, like all other strengths, it brings some bad effects along with it. I joked with my husband this morning about maybe getting this book published in the next decade. He laughed and said I'd likely be revising it that long. I do have a tendency to revise, revise, and revise, until I either run out of time or can't bear to look at the manuscript anymore. 

Where will that lead? It could lead to some amazing manuscripts. It could also mean I never send a single one out, for they never get to the point where I am willing to quit revising. 

Think about this in other terms. If one has physical strength, that means one might be able to lift a refrigerator all by oneself. However, it might also mean that you can hurt others, break windows, and otherwise destroy the world in ways others could not (and ways you might not intend). 

I know a boss who is great working with emotional people. He doesn't get flustered even when employees are angry and caustic, and that means that these employees can be honest with him and the entire tone of the workplace can improve. However, his patience also allows people with emotional problems the leeway to attack others, sometimes creating a not-so-friendly environment. 

I'm not saying, like Thoreau, that the key is "moderation." What I am saying is that the very strengths you have may also coincide with your weaknesses. My daughter tends to be compliant, but that could lead to less resistance to peer pressure. My son is more independent, but that means he has fewer friends on the playground and keeps getting written up in school. 

What are your biggest strengths? Biggest weaknesses? Don't be surprised if your answer to both is the same.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Time Travel Anyone?

The comments from my last post--along with the novel I am working on--have reminded me how common it is for writers to use flashbacks in their work. Flashbacks are a great way to show previous experiences leading up to a present character's development. In a pretty brief episode, readers can see what happened and thus understand a current expression or flaw in a character's thinking, or find justification for a character's emotional reaction to the current circumstances.

However--and this is a big however--far too often flashbacks are completely overused. Some novels, like John Carroll's The Ghost in Love, include around a hundred little flashbacks to let readers in on tiny background details. These details add little to the actual conversation, but merely seem to make the characters sound more quirky, or interrupt the action at hand. 

And then, of course, television offers a bunch of these sorts of things, too. Lost and other shows sometimes spend whole episodes in one character's past, and these episodes risk losing an entire audience who really wanted to keep following the current story.

I tend to dislike rules in general, but I do keep a few things in mind when I use a flashback, even a brief one:

1. The flashback should illustrate the bigger story, not take it over.

2. Clarity is crucial, for confusion can lead readers to stop reading.

3. A character's history is not nearly as important as what he is doing now.

I create tons of history for all of my characters--past experiences, old relationships, etc.--but I tend in my own life to be caught up in the present, so I like my novel reading to be the same. That is why I thought The Ghost in Love was a pretty lame novel (boring and lame). It's also why I don't watch Lost (not since season 2)

Still, flashbacks have a place in writing, even in my own writing. Knowing the past of a character can help readers understand them more in the present. I just use this technique sparingly, to minimize the distraction. 

How do all of you use flashbacks? What purpose do they serve in your own writing? 

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Help Me, I'm Stuck!

I've been working on my novel's revision over the last two days, but I can't get any further if I don't clear something up. It's a pretty serious set of circumstances, so if you're squeamish, I wouldn't read any further. 

I have a boy in my novel named Ben, who is fourteen (and, yes, I know that's young), and he's grown up in Oklahoma with three strikes against him: 

1. He's deaf.
2. He's a minority (mixed race).
3. He's a foster kid. 

Now, before you all get mad at me, no, I am not racist--but I lived in Oklahoma long enough to know how minorities were treated there. That's not what is at issue here, even though his minority status has had an effect on his life, adding more to his already pretty tough existence.

The problem I'm dealing with is that this boy's been in some pretty tough foster situations, and his way of coping has been through sex. One foster mom sexually abused him, starting this whole cycle going, and since then the homes he's been in haven't helped. He was in a competitive situation with a couple of foster kids, both girls, and his way of fighting back was to charm them into having a relationship with him. Both ended in pregnancy, and he denied both girls' stories when they told the foster parents, ensuring both girls would be sent away to other homes. His deafness actually worked in his favor, for it made his foster parents each time think such a relationship was impossible.

The first girl got an abortion and was sent off to another family, and only much later was Ben moved (for other reasons). When Ben did the same thing to the second girl, she committed suicide. This event cut him deeply (deservedly so, I think). 

This is all past stuff, though, for now Ben is on this boat with Noah and his daughters--by chance--and the youngest girl is in love with him. (It's a modern-day Noah's Ark story.) And he's scared to death of doing something awful all over again. Even more, he can't forgive himself for what he's already done, and he can't reconcile to himself that he's alive when it seems like the whole rest of the world is dead (they aren't all dead, but nobody knows that yet). He actually tried to throw himself off the boat the first night, once he realized where he was and what had happened, but Noah and several others prevented him from dying that first night. 

I guess I have a few questions, and I hope some of you can help me with them:

1. Is his crime unforgivable (in other words, is it too awful for readers to forgive)? 
2. Is his crime too soft (i.e., is he making too much of it and just sounding whiny)?
3. How can he express what he's done in writing? The daughter's learned some sign language, but not enough for me to just translate it into dialogue like I do the simpler exchanges--he has to write it out. I've written out about 100 versions of this--in one-sentence format--and every one has sounded downright stupid. 

I just need some intelligent opinions about this--even if it's to tell me that none of it makes a bit of sense. 

What do you think?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Doing the Grunt Work

I spent most of the day on Tuesday working on my novel (I didn't have class--election day), but since then all I seem to have done is grade papers and prep for classes. Darn!

I could complain. After all, until this novel is revised, I refuse to work on the next one, and that means, day by day, I am missing out more and more on NaNoWriMo. But that type of outside push can never invigorate me in the way so many other things do. 

Including grading papers.

Okay, for those of you who haven't just given up on my blog entirely, give me a little time to explain. Think of it like a vacation--like Christmas. Once a year, it's festive, you get to listen to some great tunes, wrap all sorts of stuff up in pretty paper with curly bows, light candles, and eat tons of food. What's not to like?

Now imagine that same season all year round. It doesn't take long for that music to turn from lyrical to grating. The presents are just a nuisance, all the Christmas decorations would start feeling cluttered, and the food would go straight to your hips. Not so nice, is it?

That's what grading does for me. It presents a shift for me. It's still all about writing, for my grading consists of reading, responding to, and assessing all sorts of writings. I hone my editing skills, help students improve their writings' clarity and organization, and do so with some of the key writing needs in mind: audience, purpose, focus, description, climax, drama, etc.

Yet I don't get to release all I've collected, not until I take the time to sit down with my own writing and use all I've learned to revise or write for myself. And I am always amazed by how much I've grown in the few days it's taken me to get back to my novel. I needed to do that work to be able to get where I am now. And more work is coming on Monday... 

I wonder what I will gain from that batch of papers. Probably more than I expect.  

What grunt work do you do? What does it do for your writing?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

World Building

I am in the thick of revising my second novel, but thoughts about my new one are creeping in anyway, and they are of a world I have not previously even considered: underwater.

Yes, I've seen Splash!, and I've adored Disney's The Little Mermaid for years. But Splash! wasn't about the underwater world, just about the mermaid's adaptation to land. Even at the end, when Tom Hanks follows her back into the sea, we don't really see the world they go to. And The Little Mermaid was far more concerned with the merpeople's distrust of humans because they eat fish, or a girl's desire to break the rules--oh, and the way Ariel's hair twirled around in the water (visually spectacular, but not something that will transfer well to a novel format). None of this will really speak to what I hope to write.

Uncharted territory. I like it. Even better, it's uncharted territory with rules, like writing a sonnet, for I have to obey the rules of undersea life at least to an extent so that nothing sticks out as stupid. 

It also means I can't just throw myself into writing. I need to figure out setting, create the lifestyle, and decide what rules I need, what rules I can break, and how everything is going to fit together. I need to do quite a bit of world building. 

I'm getting giddy just thinking about it! 

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I Swear I am Writing... Just not Here!

I checked my blog page only to realize that, even though my life was not a whirlwind right now, I still hadn't posted a blog entry since Saturday (which has been my usual MO since I began teaching heavily in August). 

Believe me, I have been busy! And, despite what you might think, I haven't just filled my life with grading and kid homework this week--I've actually been working on my novel!!!!!

Yes, the second novel, the one that made it to the top 100 entries of the Breakthrough Novel contest, is getting its overhaul. I've been reading madly through the draft, working to find the bad parts, the very bad parts, and the downright horrid parts, and figure out ways to make them all into great parts (or at least replace the horrid parts with not so horrid parts).

Honestly, the first half of the novel is pretty great. I was caught up into every page, trapped by the suspense I myself created... it was magnificent!

And then I reached page, oh, 167, and the bottom dropped out through the floor. Pretty much as soon as it stopped pouring (the novel is based on a modern-day Noah's ark story), the whole novel faltered. Sunshine started beating down on the boat, on its characters, bleaching out everything, gumming up the machinery, and pretty much bringing anything exciting to an absolute standstill. 

I could be discouraged. Okay, I am a little. I'd love for the whole thing to be spectacular, and for it to be ready to send to agents. Still, the first half of the novel gives me hope that the second half can be much better, as long as I recognize what worked in the first half and carry that through in the second half. 

Giving myself the opportunity to toss out whole chapters is rather exciting, too. Why settle? I have the computer memory... why not create something a whole hell of a lot better? 

I'll let you know how it goes...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Living Now

The most wonderful thing has happened. Mom is dating again. 

She's been widowed for more than three years, and while she's managed to keep extremely busy all this while, and has grown even more confident and beautiful (can you tell I like her?), she's also spent much of the last few years alone. 

It isn't that I feel she needs a man in her life to be complete. Please do not reply with hate mail that women can get along perfectly well without a guy (especially a creep). No, she didn't join an Internet dating thing so that she could settle down really quickly and find somebody whose socks needed washing, who couldn't cook properly for himself, or who had just lost his wife. 

She joined for the best of reasons: to live. She is a very healthy, happy woman with lively blue eyes and a great personality. She has tons of interests and tons of hobbies, and she has amassed a tremendous number of skills over the years. But she has been, over the past few months, spending her days reading, resting, having her morning coffee, and pretty much just doing ordinary stuff all by herself. She hasn't been unhappy, she's just been sort of existing.

Remember, a few blog entries ago, when I talked about how much I loved change? I realized that much of the reason I read is that I want to experience something new. Sometimes the same old stuff seems... well... the same. The same can be happy, sort of, but it can also get pretty dull.

Mom just came to visit, and for the first time in years, I have seen her truly excited. She is flirting online with men, exchanging "winks" back and forth, reading through listings, going on coffee dates. Just today she left for home, her cheeks all flushed from excitement and nervousness because her favorite e-mail pal had sent his phone number and asked her to call him. 

Do I want to date? Nope. I'm very happily wedded to the ol' hubby here, and I think I'll stick with him for a long while. But I love to see Mom living. Living is the reason I won't be teaching online classes for an old employer--if I do, I know that for around 12 weeks my life will be on hold. I can't put my life on hold anymore. When should I live? Right now. 

When should you live? Right now. 

Don't tell me you have a cold. If living means snuggling into a comforter with a box of tissues and sleeping, then do it. If it means working on that novel (in my case), then work on it. If it means playing with your kids, petting your cat, jumping around to Irish dance music, or singing at the top of your lungs, then do that.

I know you can. Surely you have a few minutes. Live now.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Classes are OVER!

My online class fiasco is finally (I hope) over! I turned in grades tonight, and barring several students suing me because I wouldn't let them plagiarize their entire essays for credit, I think I'm done. 

I won't say it was fun. It wasn't. There were brief moments of slight enjoyment, but mostly I hated every second of it. I loathed it more than pretty much anything I've done recently, apart from changing poopy diapers (not on my own kids, since they are long since trained). 

On the other hand, my two classes on campus are running along smoothly, and my students seem truly dedicated to their grade (if they aren't dedicated to writing), so I believe these classes will continue to go well. And my other two online classes look like they are going to be a whole lot of fun. They aren't going to take nearly the same time commitment, and though I also won't be paid the same for them, I really can't say I care. Even the worst tasks of these classes will be far above the poopy diaper scale of horror. 

It will take me several days to come down from the stress. I will need a lot of sleep, several good books, and even a few precious writing days to erase the stench from my brain.

And then I will send happy thoughts out to the universe--oh, I think I'm doing that already! Can you see my grin from here?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Moving Stuff Around

Besides my little cup of coffee in the morning, I am not a creature of habit. If you want to bore me to death, make tomorrow exactly like it was yesterday. Even if yesterday was fabulous, I probably wouldn't have fun with it the second time around.

This tendency of mine came to me when I was very young. Once a month, my bedroom grew boring, so I'd spend an afternoon moving around every single piece of furniture, changing out the blanket for a different colored one, even switching around the clothing in my closet so that I could feel like my room was a "hotel." I especially liked it if my head faced a different way while sleeping, so that I could wake up to find myself not where I was used to being. 

I can't say I move furniture around still, but I move everything around. I'm fortunate to be a college instructor, so that every semester brings a new schedule, a new set of students, some new subject or textbook, or a new way to approach the subject matter. I was working on this semester's syllabi, and a friend asked me why I didn't just plug new dates into the old syllabus. That's when I realized I had never, not once, taught a class the same way the second time around. Every semester shows me ways something doesn't work so well, or ways it might work better with a different textbook, a new set of requirements, or some other major modification.

Maybe that's why I'm so happy. Two classes have ended, and while I face a mound of final papers to grade, and I'll miss many of the students, I still smile at the thought that this pattern is over. And I'm beginning a new set of classes--and several of the enrolled students have yet to check in--but the newness is exciting, especially since these are courses I haven't taught formally, complete with new textbooks, new students, and a completely new online teaching system?

It's not just teaching, either. I love restaurant dining--but I order something new off the menu whenever possible. More than the seasons, I love the change in the seasons, when leaves glow and fall to the ground, when plants spring out of frost, when days of rain are succeeded by days of sunshine--or snow. I can pretty much love any kind of weather, as long as it's different than it was yesterday.

Will I ever get tired of the new? I don't think so. 

How about you? Are you a creature of habit? Or does newness invigorate you like a fall chill, like the leaves changing?

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Thanks to several blogs, including Rocket Scientist and AmyOops, I started this morning in a good mood. Right now my kids are laughing downstairs, my husband is just getting up out of bed, and the sun even looks like it's going to pop out a little today (that's rare for October in Seattle).

All in all, these things make me feel ready to take on the world. I graded two classes' worth of essays yesterday (yes, it took all day--finished at 12:30 this morning), and now I plan to focus on getting enough rest and writing. Yes, I'm actually going to writing again! I do have a few tasks to perform, like writing a quick essay assignment sheet, laundry, cleaning the kitchen, etc., but overall I'm planning on writing, writing, and writing. I'm still too sick to go to my playwrights group meeting this afternoon, so my whole day should be only occasionally uninterrupted writing

Perhaps you think that writing and laughing are unconnected. Perhaps, at times, they are. Today, though, the laughing has put me in the right frame of mind to be happy, to relax, and to let some OCD things go that I would normally pay too much attention to. 

Oh, and now my kids have just turned on grunge band Christmas music, and they are dancing in the kitchen. This is going to be a great day!

(Now I'm off to join the dancing!)

Friday, October 16, 2009


It's Friday, less than an hour before my kiddos pop off the big yellow school bus, and I've had quite a week! I could stress about the illness, the lice maintenance (still nitpicking!), the incessant paper grading, prepping for two new classes while finishing up two old classes, blah, blah, blah...

But I've been doing that a little too much lately. Instead, I'll just give you a link to Roy's World so that you can feel soothed, too, letting the music and swimming aquatic fantasy melt you into your chair. I watched that video through twice already, and I'll likely go back and watch it through a few more times. 

I'll do this if you do: I will do all I physically and psychically can to relax this weekend--to let go of all the crap that I've been storing in my very bones--and you do the same. I have a lot of options to choose from to help me along the way:

1. Get my papers graded today, before the weekend starts.
2. Convince my hubby to give me a massage.
3.  Listen to some new age music.
4. Set up a candle-lit dinner with my kids (they LOVE that!).
5.  Daydream about this new mermaid novel I've been thinking--not brainstorm, not outline, just daydream (no stress, remember).
6.  Sleep in late or turn in early (or both!).
7.  (Let my husband) build a fire in the fireplace and roast marshmallows.
8. Pet my cat.
9.  Watch a good movie.
10.  Read to my children.

Ready to relax? I know I am. Let me know what you plan to do to relax this weekend, and I'll keep you posted on my own progress towards peace of mind.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Should We "Simplify"?

A few recent posts on Henry David Thoreau and his contemporaries have brought back memories for me--and not all of them good. First of all, I enjoyed Thoreau's Walden. I read it as a college freshman, along with other nature books like Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which I, admittedly, liked much better. (I still reread chapters of Dillard's book decades after the class ended, so it must be pretty good. The chapter on the Luna Moth still affects me deeply.)

Thoreau's quote, "Simplify! Simplify! Simplify!" may very well be his most memorable, if only because it isn't as wordy as his other quotes. However, its admonition is only useful if you are like me--overwhelmed by numerous opportunities to pack your day with activity. If I didn't exercise any control over my life (and I admit sometimes I don't), I would be art docent for both of my kids' classes in school; active in the PTA; volunteering, playing piano, and serving as bookkeeper for the church; teaching eight classes this semester (I've decided six is plenty); writing on six different blogs every day; and getting about two hours of sleep each night, at the most. In other words, I would be so busy that I would be unable to enjoy one single second of my life.

Even at a lower extreme than this, I need to simplify. I need to teach even less. I've backed away from all church obligations. I should still hire a maid. I need to assess every obligation in my life and decide whether it's worth my time, what effect it has on my overall happiness (good or bad), and what I should do about it.

However, others in the world are not in this situation. I know of people who have so little to interest them in life that they spend their evenings attached to the television, not because they are actively interested in any show, but because they have nothing better to do. Time is their enemy, not because they don't have enough of it (my constant complaint), but because they have way too much of it. Saturday and Sunday are extra boring because they have all day to be bored. When they retire, they may flounder for years, unable to develop any interest in anything at all. 

Thoreau managed to do this without television. During the time he spent at Walden Pond, his days consisted of wandering around the shore, planting vegetables when the weather was good, but mostly just thinking from dawn until dusk. Many others of his age criticized him for being lazy, for choosing not to work, etc. Doesn't sound like my idea of happiness. 

So, where should we sit on the spectrum? Perhaps the phrase would be better this way: "Moderation! Moderation! Moderation!" Those of the overworked should pare their obligations down, allowing them to commit themselves fully to a few amazing things. Those who have too much time on their hands should pick up a few interests, involving themselves in something meaningful so that they have a reason to get up in the morning.

What do you think? Have you found your ideal level of moderation? I'm still seeking the perfect balance.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Perfect Audience

I love to write.

I know, you're shocked! But I really do. I like teaching writing. I like writing poetry (even if it ends up stupid). I like writing stories. Plays. Shopping lists. Blog entries. Yeah, pretty much everything (except queries to publishers--I hate those). 

But often my audiences are not the best for the things I write. For instance, most of my serious poetry is written to someone. And that someone loves my poem, but the poem leaves pretty much everyone else cold. My husband loves the sonnets I wrote to him in college. My mother-in-law loves the poem I wrote her after her husband passed away. My aunt loves the poem I wrote her when she was going through a particular bad part of her life. But the poems don't seem to translate to anyone else. 

I have other audience problems, too. Sometimes readers of my novels aren't so impressed. Sometimes actors in my plays urge me to change serious dramas to farces--"the only way to save this material" is what they contend. Sometimes I've turned what I thought was a brilliant essay, only to have it picked apart. Oh yes, I'm used to it. I've learned, too, that audiences, even if they are pretty off base, do pick up on problems--audience analysis can be beneficial no matter what they think. 

But wouldn't it be nice if one audience--one perfect audience--knew exactly what you were getting at? Wouldn't it be great if my play reached an audience of women who just knew every word in my play was an authentic part of both myself and them, if by the end they were weeping with relief and joy that their deepest dreams were laid out before them, for them to embrace? What if my novel were like the best meal ever eaten, full of magic and mystery, juicy and satisfying, good enough to order over and over again. What if I had regular customers, who found themselves delighted with each new installment?

What would your ideal be? Who is your perfect audience?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dreaded Bugs

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Why is my life such a train wreck?!?

I was just about to put my kids to bed for the night, just about to settle in for an evening of grading my beloved essays (from all four classes I'm teaching), when my child shocked me out of my complacent plans. Leaning over the sink, she reached behind her head and scratched. Hard. Like she was really digging. Like it was really itchy.

My stomach could not have lurched more, but I tried to remain outwardly calm. I fiddled through her head one way, then the other. Little bits of...dandruff? Sugar? Oh, but they were stuck to her hair like sugar. I had to pull them off with my fingernails. 

Knowing the truth already (and if you've had this happen, you know the truth, too), I ventured further down, towards the neck. And I cursed (inwardly), for there were the creepy little almost unseeable bugs. Dammit! 

Now, don't get me wrong, there is not a time in my life when lice will be welcome. Not on my kids. Not on me. Not on my husband. Not on a flea in the front yard. If there is a creature that does not deserve to live, it's that one. But right now? I don't have the time! I have papers to grade! Rough drafts to scribble all over! Homework to help my kids with! Reading to do! Classes to plan for! Weekly grades to submit! I am OVERWHELMED with my life already!

Richard ran off to get the pesticide (and, yes, I realize I'm poisoning my kids--they'll probably die of brain cancer someday and it will be ALL MY FAULT), and I started washing bedding in hot water. We soaked all the brushes, cleaned all the stuff we could find, collected everything that couldn't be washed and vacuumed it (spraying it with some more pesticide, too, so that my kids could get cancer somewhere else), and washed everybody. I used the little nit comb and went through everyone's hair systematically. 

Everything seemed fine. Had it worked? I checked my daughter's hair this morning--the only person I'd seen signs of lice on--and she seemed good. Hair looked clean. Didn't see a single nit.

I should have been relieved. I did actually get some grading done. But then the nurse called. It seems all the bugs were gone (though she did tell me what I'd used was a pesticide, and it was not recommended, without telling me how else I was supposed to kill the creepy bugs), but she said my daughter's hair was "filled with nits," and to get rid of them, I was going to have to "go through Crystal's hair strand by strand, physically pulling off every one to get rid of them."

Great. Now, instead of grading papers, I'm FREAKING OUT! And tonight, instead of working on my classes as I should, I'm going to spend, oh, FOUR HOURS combing through people's hair! And my husband's going to have to spend the whole evening combing through mine once the kids go to bed. 

And I get to do it all with an itchy head, because whether I have them or not, even if I dosed myself with the cancer-causing pesticide last night and killed all the crawling ones, I'm itching from the mere idea of them. 

The nurse wished me luck. I don't think that's enough to pull me through this one. 

Monday, October 5, 2009

Two More Weeks!

I have only two more weeks of torture left--with a few days of furious grading to follow, so that I can turn grades in and be done with two classes. It wasn't the students--they were great, even if so many of them turned everything in late. It was just the school requirements, for these are online classes, and they are packed with so much work for the students to do--and for me to grade--that I could barely finish one grading project before I had to start another one (I'm sure the students have felt the same way--that as soon as they get one project done, they have another due). 

Overall, it's been pretty stressful, and not nearly as rewarding as I'd hoped. And I earned craptacular pay for it, too, a reality which makes it highly unlikely I will ever do such a thing again--ever. 

I soon start two more classes, also online, but with a completely different college. I am not sure, but I believe they will turn out well (especially in comparison). I'm prepping for those right now, and also madly grading for the other two courses, so I still may be in here sporadically for a few weeks, at least until the stress classes are over.

Have you ever noticed how the things you most love often come with corresponding thing you hate? For instance, I love teaching writing. I love teaching it almost as much as I love doing it. But I hate grading. Yup, detest it. I hate seeing a paper as "over," or "finished," and assigning a grade to it, like the student has no hope of ever doing better. Unfortunately, even with some modifications I've made to the paper-grading process, the grade must eventually be assigned. And I loath that part, and likely always will (unless I become some sort of maniacal old blue-haired English teacher who resents her students and loves giving F's).

It's the same with writing. I love to write. I love the whole process of it--writing down random ideas, outlining, planning, writing scenes, scrapping whole chapters, revising, adding details--but I absolutely detest sending my stuff off to publishers/contests/agents, etc. I cringe with every stamp I lick, shake my head as I write the SASE, fold it carefully, and take the whole mess to the post office. 

I suppose I'd be happier if I loved these parts, but I also wouldn't be me. It's the sensitive, creative side of me that hates these things, the part that says nothing should ever be finished, that we are always growing, and F's and rejection slips do nothing but stifle that growth. Then again, fear of F's and rejection slips may spur us on to work harder, try more, and revise again and again.

Perhaps they aren't so bad after all. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Even More Advice from David Copperfield

I've interspersed some rather lovely advice from David Copperfield with some horrid whinings of my own, but--thank goodness for you--it's time for more Copperfield again.

This little tidbit comes from the littlest tidbit of the novel, a super tiny dwarf named Miss Mowcher, who spends a few scenes flirting around with men and entertaining while David looks on. David doesn't take a liking to her, but once a mutual friend shows his true colors (I'd tell you who, and what he does, but that would spoil the story), she reveals she had no part in the deception, and shows she's as true a person as anyone, but has had to put on a show of sorts because of her chromosomal condition. 

She tells him she has no choice but to act as she does just so that she can survive in a world where she is deemed to be so different (because so small), and she promises to do all she can to help remedy the situation, even though she is not the cause. And as she leaves David, she tells him:

You are a young man.... Take a word of advice, even from three foot 
nothing. Try not to associate bodily defects [Dickens' words, not mine] with
mental, my good friend, except for solid reason.

You see, even though she was small and not the standard of beauty, her heart and mind were good. And even though the friend who had betrayed them both was very handsome and seemed kind, he was truly a selfish, egotistical user. 

This reminds me of a story I was told about the film Tootsie. Artists spent hours on Dustin Hoffman's make-up, but when they showed him the product, he thought they were kidding. He said something like, "Why don't you make me pretty?" and the make-up artists told him that was as pretty as he was going to get. Hoffman was deeply affected by this, for it suddenly occurred to him how many women he had passed by, had ignored, because they didn't fit his standard of beauty. And yet, dressed as a woman, he was the very kind of woman who would have been ignored. (If you haven't seen this movie, it's really very good. Bill Murray alone makes it worth watching, but Hoffman is also spectacular). 

I know what it's like to be passed over. It still happens to me, and has ever since I can remember. Yet I also know, with a sinking in my gut, that I have done the same to others. I have judged on looks alone, and I am a lesser person for having done so. I've likely missed out on some pretty spectacular people. 

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Down Time

I woke up this morning, and for the first time in several weeks, I didn't have a huge list of things to do for teaching. Okay, I did, but the list is for a class I start in three weeks, so I can't say I feel the tremendous heat of fire under me to get the stuff done. 

I know, I know, I will regret this soon. 

Still, it meant I had most of the day without anything pressing on me. I called a few people I hadn't spoken with in far too long, cleaned the kitchen, and then told myself, "Hey, self, you could finally write something!" 

Oh, to write after so many dry months of not having the time. Oh, to pick up my laptop, and instead of logging into my four different e-mail accounts (I'm not kidding), just avoid the Internet completely, opening up my play about two people at an airport and working on it, or planning out more of my revision of my Thomas novel, or even revising my Ark novel (I've been waiting to do this since June)! 

But that's not what I did. I played games, I played around, I read books to my kids (Okay, that's a good thing to do), I made dinner, I set myself out on a blanket on the lawn and read the last few pages of David Copperfield. Only after I'd put my kids to bed did I try to write.

That would be an okay ending, if I spent the next few hours writing. But I didn't work. I read through the short play so far--and I still like it--but when I sought the next real shift, the next touch of dialogue, my mind came up blank. Suddenly I felt like the last place in the world I wanted to be was here, with the laptop in front of me. I didn't want to write. Even setting this down, I admit I feel a bit writhe-ish (I must be taking a page from Uriah Heep), and all I want to do is go upstairs to bed--and not write tomorrow, either.

I can't say I know for certain, but I don't think this writer's block is going to be good for me long term. Any ideas for how I can get myself out of this writing funk?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Blind! Blind! Blind!

This next little bit of David Copperfield pith is from Chapter 35, and, surprisingly, the advice is not direct. David is in love with a silly, vacuous little girl named Dora, who gets him all hot and bothered every time she shakes her curls at him, but who seems intellectually incapable of being serious for a single minute of her life. 

He has just been expounding on the greatness of Dora to his wonderful friend Agnes, whom he grew up with, to an extent, and we readers have all figured out by now that he's infatuated with the wrong girl--and only later does he figure this out, long after he had married and settled down with Dora. As he is walking out the door...oh, well, I should really let Dickens describe it:

...Oh, Agnes, sister of my boyhood, if I had known then, 
what I knew long afterwards--
There was a beggar in the street, when I went down; 
and as I turned my head towards the window thinking of 
her calm seraphic eyes, he made me start by muttering,
as if he were an echo of the morning:
"Blind! Blind! Blind!"

In that one moment, when David was about to make a huge mistake, there was a portent, out of the blue, frightening him out of his stupidity, telling him how blind he was.

It may sound creepy to you, but don't you wish you had a portent, somebody who could hop out of a back alley at you, shouting, "Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" when you are about to commit a huge mistake, or yelling "Cop! Cop! Cop!" when a policeman's sitting around the bend with a radar gun? 

Of course, what did David do with the portent? He ignored it. Only long afterwards did the scene occur to him, far too late to have done anything about it. Perhaps those same portents shout at us, but we ignore them, too, and keep heading headlong into the messes we create for ourselves. 

If only we'd listen!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

More Advice from David Copperfield

I know it's been a while since my last David Copperfield post, but I promised you more good advice from Dickens' memorable characters. I am not quite finished with my rereading, but I have a great bit of gold from David Copperfield's great aunt Betsy Trotwood. She is a lady who made a notable appearance as David's mother was in labor with him, and she sat by patiently, waiting for her beloved "niece" to be born. When she found out it was a boy--David--she left without another word, and she didn't appear in the story again until David, friendless, hopeless, a starving runaway, shows up on her doorstep, filthy and looking just as much a boy as before.

But she doesn't walk away from him the second time, although she does take to calling him Trotwood Copperfield instead of David. She learns a great deal from this young man, even in her old age. And when he is about to set off into the world, she gives him some advice in return. She says, "Never... be mean in anything; never be false; never be cruel. Avoid those three vices, Trot, and I can always be hopeful of you."

Now, all I can wish is that every parent and guardian gave his or her children the same advice, that the world taught its kids to be kind, to be true, and to cause happiness instead of pain to those around them. Think of how different the world would be if we lived like this. War would be impossible, for no one would knowingly intend harm to anyone else. Gossip would be unacceptable, for if one began sniping about someone else, those who heard the snipe would refuse to take part. 

Would all sadness cease? No, of course not. We would still do stupid things. We would still make mistakes. But instead of laughing at someone we accidently knocked to the ground, we'd hold out a hand and apologize, and we'd truly be sorry we'd hurt them. 

This advice has caused me to do all kinds of nice things just over the last week. I took my kids to the library today, even though I didn't have time (they were almost teary from the books they found). I saved the last piece of carrot cake for my husband (and I really wanted it, too). It made me sign three people into one of my day classes even though I only had room for one (I just couldn't turn the other two down!). 

I still have much to learn from this little kernel of wisdom. I should paint it on the walls of my office, so that I can read it through every day. I'd be a better person if I did.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Feeling Lazy...

Remember the Simon & Garfunkel song, "Feeling Groovy?" Okay, so I'm too stressed to feel groovy, but with two new classes looming in front of me (they start tomorrow), I have no choice. Yes, I'm prepared. Yes, I've taught them before. Yes, the syllabi are turned in and probably copied by now (I hope), and yes, the first class is merely me up at the front scaring the pants off all the students by telling them all the course requirements.

But I'm still tense. Instead of singing, "Feeling Groovy," I'm humming "Feeling Lazy." I have two more syllabi to create, for two classes beginning in October, and I really need to have the courses completely set up this week, before the rest of my classes get out of hand. 

But each time I get online, I balk. "I don't want to!" the baby voice inside me whines. "It's Sunday!" she continues, "Why can't I rest on a Sunday, just one day per week?"

Unfortunately, the truth is, I can't. I need to get this done. So even this blog entry, yet another attempt to stall, must end. I need to get to work. No lazy days for me!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Weeding Wisdom

I will get back to David Copperfield, but I was weeding yesterday, and as with the last time I weeded, I tend to philosophize as I pull out the horrid junk out from around my rose bushes. (I shouldn't be that mean when discussing these plants, but they really are annoying.)

If you'd like to read my other entry on the matter, I think it's on my defunct blog, so it's been a while since I wrote on the topic. I am struck, each time I do some gardening, by how informative it is about life--especially about my writing. Here are a few little kernels of what I learned yesterday:

1.  Get a problem out by the roots, and it won't come back. I can't tell you how many times I've pulled the leaves off a weed, only to see it come back in a week, stronger than ever. In my writing, I often tend to lop off a little scene that is giving me a sign of some bigger problem, rather than deal with the bigger problem. When I go back through the novel or play, though, the problem is still there. It won't go away until I take out the true cause, and that requires digging. (It also leads to the next item.)

2.  Get a shovel, and use it. When one revises a novel (or play), one might be more eager to fix a comma splice than delete an entire character, or scene, or situation. One might not want to admit the climax stinks, or that the whole beginning premise is absolutely lame. But if one doesn't take a hatchet to the work--or if one isn't at least willing to hold the hatchet out there, looking for places to hack--the real substantive changes will not occur, and the spine of the work is going to be weak.

My last piece of advice comes thanks to the neighborhood dog, who detests when I am weeding anywhere near the back fence, and thus barks savagely non-stop, hurling himself at the fence (which shudders) when I get quite close to it. So, here it is:

3.  It is very hard to weed with a dog barking savagely in the background. It makes me think of bursts like the NaNoWriMo concept, to write a novel in a month (it's coming up in November). If I have a huge deadline looming, if I feel as if a dog is barking at me over my shoulder, not only will I work less efficiently, but I will be miserable while I'm doing it. That stupid dog made gardening a chore when I normally would like to do it. Surely, after years of living here, it has to know I'm not coming through the fence, and surely I know it won't get to me, but the dreadful sound make me shudder (like the fence), and they set my hair on end. Not a good way to garden. Not a good way to write. 

It's almost fall, almost time for all the plants to take a breather--and that's good, since I have two classes starting in less than a week, and two more starting mid-October. Lots to do!