Friday, March 23, 2012

A Writer, a Snow Day and a Beach

There I was, sitting at home with the kids. It was a school morning so they should have been in school but they weren't. The half an inch of snow on the ground had caused the school system to call my home telephone number at 5:30 in the morning to announce school would be delayed by two hours.

I'd just finished reading an email from a friend who was raving about the unseasonably beautiful weather they've been having in New York.

That's wonderful, I thought as I contemplated my heavy duty wool hiking socks and tried to decide whether I could manage to type in gloves (maybe the fingerless ones??).

Upstairs was chaos. Despite the fact that there are four bathrooms in this house, theoretically enough for EVERYONE in the family to use a bathroom at the same time, an argument had broken out about locked doors and unfair access. Three minutes later, Child #2 came into my office to tell me he thought his bones might be inflamed and Child #1 came in to aggressively hug me.

The prospect of editing Losing Hope all day was holding about as much appeal as, well, an inflammation of the bones.

That's when it hit me. Everyone was ready for a vacation!

Lucky for me Spring Break is next week and we are going somewhere warmer than here. There will definitely be a beach and quite possibly a theme park. I have a sparkly gold pedicure and it will not be covered by thick wool hiking socks.

The one thing there won't be is blogging. I'll miss you. But you'll be here when I get back, right! ;)

See you in a week, or so...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Boundaries

I've been thinking a lot about boundaries this week.

Maybe it's because Child #1 has recently started hugging me while I'm doing things like the dishes, cooking or trying to extract myself from her bedroom at night. She wraps her arms around me, virtually immobilizing me until I stop whatever it is I'm doing.

This is not Child #1's way of saying she needs more affection.

Instead, it's her ingenious method of exerting some control over her mother. She knows I'm always happy to give her a hug and is testing the boundaries of my willingness to drop whatever I'm doing and hug her. Testing for example, whether the affection card works as a way to avoid doing homework, cleaning up her room or whatever else I've asked her to do.

The boundary issues at home made me think about boundaries in writing.
Are there things I would never write about? Words I couldn't even bear to hear even through the mouths of a fictional characters? Or is everything fair game?

I've heard other writers talk about keeping things locked up. They have life experiences that are either too uncomfortable or painful to be fodder for a book. They steer carefully around their writing boundaries, choosing subject matter that, at most, touches at the edges of the things they can't bear to talk about.

But is that the best policy when it comes to writing?


Lately, I've been wondering if boundaries, like certain rules, aren't meant to be broken. Although we experience life on an individual level it seems egotistical to assume our touchy subjects are unique to us alone. As writers, do we owe it to ourselves and others to push past our boundaries and deal with the truths we'd rather not tell? If we play it safe how can we expect to touch anyone else, make them understand what we're feeling through the two dimensional page?

And in the end, aren't most boundaries about trust? Child #1 is pushing my hugging boundaries because she trusts me enough to let her know when she's gone too far.

Maybe trust is the essential piece of the puzzle writers need to develop to push past their writing boundaries. They need to trust themselves enough to let their work go. And once they've started to trust that their work is fit for other people's eyes, then they need to trust that pushing past the boundaries of their innermost thoughts, painful moments and deep confessions will take their writing to a new level.

At least, that's my working theory this week.

What about you? Are certain emotions or experiences off limits or do you push past all your boundaries because you feel like it allows you to better connect with your readers?

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Wedding

In the last month I've sort of angsted, on this blog and in person to all my friends, about whether our daughters will be able to reject the prepackaged messages fed to them about what it means to be a girl.

Everywhere I look I see article after article citing early puberty for girls. I read stories, with mixed amounts of horror and sadness, about fifth grade girls performing oral sex. And I look at the role models that seem to be role models for plastic surgery and tight clothes instead of confidence and self-esteem.

The world seems to be afloat in a sea of negativity about our daughters. They're growing up too fast, they're too fat, too thin, overly manipulated by media and unkind to each other in social situations.

Which is why I was so pleased when my daughter announced that fourth grade class would be celebrating a girls only wedding.

One girl proposed to another and that, combined with the love of planning an event, gave birth to a wedding. It will be a backyard event at one of the bride's homes. Jellybeans will be served but no peanuts, because one of the brides has a peanut allergy. Although, I've been told the option of pistachios in the shell was being thrown around during Friday recess.

"Am I invited?" I asked my daughter.

"Did you get an invitation?" she asked me.

"No."

"That kind of says it all, right mom."

The invitations have all gone out by email. The girls without email accounts are to receive their invitations by hand delivery.

My daughter, as best friend to both brides, will be a bridesmaid. Another girl is designing the dresses for the entire wedding party with possible assistance from Goodwill Industries.

"It's casual dressy, mom," she told me. "But don't get too excited because you don't need a dress since you're not invited."

Child #1 and one of the brides-to-be
"Right, I remember that," I said.

The wedding guests will be almost exclusively fourth grade girls, with two notable exceptions.

The first, is the bride's little sister, who is going to be the flower girl. The second, is a fourth grade boy who plays with these girls and will be officiating the ceremonies, as priest or rabbi, or possibly both.

The date is set for April 7th.

I hope they have a glorious spring morning for their wedding. But whether the sun is shining or not I will be happy in the knowledge that this group of girls is writing their own rules. Of course, I'll have to be happy from afar since, you know, I'm not invited.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Mommy Porn

I heard about it at a dinner party.

Well to be honest, it was just Sunday dinner at a friend's house. My friend was taking the chicken out of the oven.

I was keeping her company with a glass of wine while our husband's talked about football or baseball or cigars or motorcycles in that way that makes it hard to differentiate one subject from the other. The kids, all four of them, were off doing kid things.

"Have you read that new sex book?" she asked me, one eyebrow raised, knife plunging into the chicken.

"No," I said and she seemed surprised, which isn't all that surprising because, as a writer, people often assume I've read ALL the new books.

"It's this sex book for moms! Everyone's buzzing about it. I can't believe you haven't read it."

Maybe it was the wine, or maybe it was the way it was described but I came away from the evening with the impression that Fifty Shades of Grey was a how-to manual. A chic and updated version of the Kama Sutra.

And because I'm sort of a sucker for the next new thing, I immediately downloaded the book and then, because I'm perpetually overscheduled I sort of forgot about it.

In the intervening two weeks Fifty Shades of Grey is everywhere I look.

It got a mention in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal. There's a piece about it in EW and all week long social networking has been thick with parodies. Fifty Shades of Mean Kitties, in my Facebook feed, Fifty Shades of Faeries on Twitter and Fifty Shades of HooHa on Google Plus.

But back to the book, Fifty Shades of Grey started as fanfiction based on the Twilight series. A what if piece...what if Bella hadn't waited and Edward was forced to struggle with his desire to tie Bella up instead of his desire to drink her blood.

 Remember, the Twimoms? This is the book they should have been reading in the first place, because, let's face it, with one notable exception, mothers have already had sex. 

And while we're facing facts maybe we should acknowledge the real allure of the Twilight series. It wasn't due to a sudden spike in love for Native American culture, Stephanie Meyer's deep and thoughtful character development or our fascination with a small rainy town in Washington state. Nope, pretty sure it was all about the sex, or lack thereof.

Which makes me wonder why it's taken so long for a book like Fifty Shades of Gray to go mainstream? In a society that feeds on stylized and sexualized images of women, using them to sell everything from magazines to toothpaste, why is it big news to discover woman might actually want to engage in the act itself?

Lucky for me, I have an unexpected window of time this weekend. I'm looking forward to curling up in the living room with my own personal handheld device...which would be my Kindle!

I'll be reading, and joining the thousands of other woman who are rejecting their role as fantasy fodder for others and claiming the right to fantasies of their own.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Failure: Size Medium

Today I'm going to argue that medium size failures are the ones with which writers are most intimately familiar.

We all know what it feels like when the email pops up in our inbox or you pull the small envelope in suspiciously familiar handwriting out of the pile of mail.

Both types of correspondance induce heart pounding and are almost always followed by a sick feeling in the pit of the stomach. In case you still don't know what I'm talking about that type of correspondance is usually from a publisher/agent/magazine and starts "Dear Author".

And yet, as anxiety producing as they are, I still think these are failures size medium. I know many of us have spent years and years perfecting our novels, screenplays, articles, graphic novels or short stories but what does failure on this scale cost?

The first three things that came to mind when I tried to measure the cost of medium sized failures were pride, confidence and a good day gone bad. Of course, none of these are good things but none of them are devastating either. Sometimes it takes me an hour or a day or a week but I always bounce back from medium size failures.

Then there's the flip side to taking medium sized risks. The most exciting two pieces of that flip side are HOPE and ANTICIPATION.

Hope is crucial and anticipation is delicious. It's the plus side to the butterflies in your stomach and the shaking hands. Waking up every morning with the hope, the anticipation that today might be the day my novel hits the NYT best seller list, or my short story is accepted for publication by Very Tony Magazine or thousands of people love my blog post is worth the risk.

So yes, most of the time my pride takes a beating. There are days when I feel inferior and question my writing ability. There are also the days when one person's rejection feels like a thunderstorm passing over my sunny sky. But, as it turns out, I'm a bit of a hope junkie. It's one addiction I'm not interested in kicking anytime soon.

What about the rest of you? Are you hope junkies too? Or do the risks involved with Failure: Size Medium feel too big?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Failure: Size Small

Last weekend I went to the beach with three of my dearest friends. While we are all big fans of white sand beaches, infinity pools and drinks with umbrellas, this wasn't that kind of beach. It was the Oregon coast in March which, while beautiful, is not something you associate with swimwear or burying your toes in the sand.

What it's perfect for is talking...which we did nonstop for three days. More importantly, for this blog, we spent an entire evening cozied up in front of the fireplace while we dissected our fears of failure.

These women aren't the kind of people you would expect to harbor deep-seated fears about failure. They're ivy league smart with impressive jobs, or the ability to obtain impressive jobs if the winds blow them in that direction. They all have amazing children, loving husbands and beautiful homes. They are successful by any standard and yet, somehow they all had a lot to contribute to our fear of failure discussion.

At some point in the evening we had an epiphany. We realized our fears of failure are like t-shirt sizes. They come in small, medium and large. No matter what size you are, you can be certain there will be a fear of failure that is the perfect fit for you.

Failure: Size Small.

These are things that we aspire to do. We might work at them from time-to-time but over all, the stakes are low.

My best example of size small failure fear centers around pie crust. My mom makes the world's best pie crust. She can have it rolled out on the counter, draped over the rolling pin and laid out in a pie pan in less time than it takes me to write a blog post.

When I make pie crust, using the same recipe handed down through the generations, the results aren't the same. There is breakage, patching and frustration. This isn't enough to prevent me from making the pie crust but I certainly wouldn't ever offer to bring pie to my mother's house.

If it were any other recipe I'd say forget it. Cut my losses and move on but this recipe is a family legacy. I want to get it right so that, maybe, someday, I'll be able to make it for my grandchildren. On the other hand, do my pie crust fiascos keep me up at night? No, emphatically no! Still, until I get them right, my pies won't be something I bring to a dinner party.

So, blog readers. What's the focus of your size small failure fear? Remember, the key here is small and low stakes. I'm saving size medium failure for Wednesday.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Fear Factor

On Monday I wrote about failing up, which is my way of saying I'm almost ready to take a plunge into waters where failure is a given.

But before I plunge into that cold and particularly icy water I'm going to talk about excuses. Below is a list of the ones I hear most frequently and their counter arguments.

1. "Who has that kind of time? I'm way too busy."

And yet, if you look at your schedule carefully I'm sure you'll realize you have more time than you let on. We live in the twenty-first century. The main advent of which, has been to create innovations which free us from physical labor and give us more free time. If it's something really important, I'm confident you'll find the time.

2.  "I'm too old/young."

Or maybe you're just the right age. Too young, then you have so much more time and energy to keep trying and push through until you reach success. Too old? Come on, that's an easy one. You have the wisdom of your years to guide you.

3. 'They' are so much better than I am. I could never be that good.

It's entirely probable that at one time 'they' didn't know about Caps Lock either. (see Monday's post). Everyone has to start somewhere. If you never start than you are guaranteed failure. Trying doesn't guarantee success but it does guarantee that you'll learn something.

4. "But, but...what if I fail?"

This is my particular hang up. I hate the thought of people watching me fail. This was my biggest worry about publishing Losing Beauty with a small press. (What if some people classified that as failure? Should I have held out for a big six deal? What, oh what, would people say?)

The truth is no matter how successful you are some people will find a way to tear you down. The other truth is the number of people who take pleasure in your success will greatly outweigh the first group. Surround yourself with the second group and ignore the haters. It's a tried and true survival skill that has worked since we were primordial ooze. It'll work for you too.

5. "I hate rejection."

Have you met anyone who thrives on rejection? Nope, me neither. We all hate rejection. And sadly, we all get rejected.

There's a corallary to this excuse. Do you like it when people say wonderful things about you? Yes, me too!

As a writer, there's no way to experience the good unless you risk the bad. If you've followed my advice for #4 above, you'll have a bunch of writer friends to hold your hand through each and every rejection. We know! We feel your pain. We are fellow recipients of enough rejections to virtually wallpaper every corner of our virtual bathroom too.

Ironically, today I'm leaving you with an excuse of my own. It's excuse #1 in fact.
Friday will be a blogger break day for me AKA Girl's Weekend.  I guess that's the last thing about excuses. Sometimes, every once in a while, they're okay.

See you all on Monday when I'll be chronicling my first attempt to push myself into the cold, cold waters of failure. The good news is it's just metaphorical water and I'm pretty confident I won't drown.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Fail Up

March

It's my month to fail up. Which is just another way of saying I'm going to seek out new challenges.

In past months I've made an attempt to live like the kids. I've been eating less sugar, cutting out late nights and having more fun.

Those small adjustments in my lifestyle have suffered occasional derailment in the name of Girl Scout cookies, rave-inspired birthday parties and a couple of unintentional late night reading marathons. But the good thing about living like a kid is you get to make plenty of mistakes. The other good thing is most of my slip-ups can be reclassified under the third category of living like a kid, which is having more fun.

Few would argue that living like a kid isn't good for body and soul. It provides more energy and lots to talk about but it doesn't do much to expand my skill sets.

Which is why I've decided to make March my month to take a few chances. The more I thought about this goal the more I realized I would still be living like a kid.

I'm sitting at my dining room table as I write this blog post because my daughter has taken over my office. She's holed up, working on the biography of Coco Chanel she's preparing for school. Despite the subject matter, which she loves, this project is riddled with challenges.

There's keyboarding for example. "AAARRRGHH, why is everything I type capitalized? MOM, it's NOT working."

"Did you accidentally hit the Caps Lock key?"

"Oh, maybe. Okay. Go away. Don't read over my shoulder."

Yes, she caught me reading over her shoulder and in that brief moment I read that Coco Chanel "got women out of bonnets, created the little black dress and lots of other stuff."

On a daily basis kids are pushed to learn new things; technology, descriptive writing, grammar. We aren't born knowing the phrase 'lots of other stuff' shouldn't be used in a biographical essay. We learn this information and the learning process isn't always easy.

In fact, my daughter is often frustrated by her school work but she pushes through. I expect her to push through because she's in fourth grade and still has a lot to learn.

And then there's me. I expect my kids to take chances and risk failure because I want them to learn. Do I have anything left to learn? Does fear of failure prevent me from trying new things? Most importantly, if I wouldn't accept those excuses from my kids, why should I accept them from myself?

Stop by on Wednesday when I'll be looking at excuses. Some will be borrowed, some will be my own. The one thing they have in common is their unilateral goal of protecting the status quo.


Friday, March 2, 2012

Carnage in the Backyard

It all started with Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Child #2 and I were reading the passage where a rat named Justin discusses human hatred for rats and how rats are hunted, trapped and killed.

"That's just like dad," my son told me, big brown eyes wide.

"What do you mean?"

"Dad was looking for those traps to kill rats. He said he wanted the ones that would kill them instantly."

"Do you mean mice?" I asked drawing my feet up and looking suspiciously around the room.

"No." He shook his head and I could tell this was not a case of word confusion.

Here's the skinny. I'm terrified of rats. Not just a little jump, scream and giggle terrified. It's much more serious than that. An unexpected rat encounter will cause me to hyperventilate and lose all rational thought.

When we lived in NYC I once plucked my daughter out of her stroller and ran the other direction, leaving behind my husband, the diaper bag and an enormous rat who was giving me the stink eye.

"The rat would have run away," my husband insisted.

"Or it would have jumped in the stroller and chewed off Child #1's face."

When it comes to me and rats, there's a low occurrence of rational thought.

Here's the rest of the skinny.
Gateway to Ratopia

We live in an old inner city neighborhood, filled with big trees, historic homes, pretty parks and rats. The neighborhood's rat problem is our dirty, little secret.

A friend of mine who lives in a tasteful, elegantly appointed tudor tells a cringe-inducing story of hearing scratching noises inside a drawer, opening it up and having a rat jump out.

Dinner party discussion topics have touched on rats in walls, rats climbing out of toilets and I've seen the ocassional drowned rat in the street. But until that moment in Child #2's bed, they'd all just been cautionary tales. Suddenly, it felt personal.

I confronted my husband later that evening. He shook his head. "He wasn't supposed to tell you. I can't believe he didn't keep it a secret."

Child #2's lack of secret keeping skills was not what I wanted to focus on. I needed details and I got them. The rat  was found in our backyard, dead and bloody. Good, I thought. Something out there is killing rats. And that was the last time I thought about it until yesterday when I was blithely walking through the backyard and came upon vermin carnage.

It might have been a rat, but given its mangled and bloody state it was hard to tell. Later in the day I ventured back outside but the carcass was gone, disappeared as though my backyard is inhabited by a group of vermin hitmen skilled in the art of 'disappearing bodies'.

Some people might be disturbed to discover their back yard is a killing field where misshapen, bloody animal corpses disappear in a matter of hours. Not me! It feels like I have a guardian angel in my backyard. My guardian angel might have a ferocious appetite for mid-sized rodents and the personality of a serial killer but really, what's the point of quibbling over small details?

P.S. Posting the pictures for this blog was *almost* more than I could manage. Immediately upon finishing I closed the lid on every toilet in my house.