Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ten Tips for a Successful Move

Here is my quick primer on cross-country moving:

1. When your husband says, "Don't worry. It'll only take two days to pack up the house," don't believe him. Instead start boxing things up immediately, if not sooner. Your marriage will thank you.

2. Hamsters are impervious to air travel and a new home.

3. Children, however, are not.

4. Agree on the definitions of certain words with your spouse. For instance, the word unpack should mean all items in said box are removed. It does not mean boxes are placed in available closet space for later discovery. have another unpacked box!!

5. MapQuest, GPS, Google Maps. Whatever you use...don't leave home without it.

6. Time your move so it closely coincides with the start date of school. A week, for example, of hearing about how your children have no friends and the new school is going to be horrible, is WAY too much time.

7.  When necessary keep bribes close at hand. Cookies, screen time, back to school shopping. These are your new best friends.

8. Instead of spending tens of minutes each morning staring helplessly at the complicated new coffee maker...locate the nearest Starbucks and commit the route to memory.

9. Channel someone on Prozac or Xanax or any of those happy-making, calm drugs. "I know we've been sitting in traffic for 45 minutes sweetie, but try not to bounce your basketball off of your sister's head again."

10. And the number one rule for moving cross-country, insisted upon by school teachers and frazzled mothers everywhere....Have fun!

Even if you have to pretend! Because pretend fun is better than no fun at all.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Shutterfly Madness

Each summer I undertake an opus...a totally different kind of major project than the ones I wrestle with during the fall, winter and spring.

It's a photo opus.

There is no small amount of anticipatory dread that accompanies this project. You see, I LOVE to take pictures. And, as fate would have it, I have two very willing subjects (and one who has asked never to be featured in my social media stream).

Each year, around this time, I start shuffling through the thousands (yes, thousands!!!) of pictures I've accumulated over the last 365 days.

It's a different kind of editing than I'm used to, and one that seems infinitely more taxing than the slicing and dicing of words variety.

The end product makes my closest friends mutter things under their breath about their own untamed digital photo wilderness.

It makes my children cuddle up next to each other in the living room and ponder the passing of the year (note to self: should probably photograph that). And it makes the person whose photo never appears in my social media stream, smile.

The second two items on that list would be enough of a reason to convince me to finish my yearly dreaded project. But this year, as I sort, click and question why I took 100+ pictures of Child #1 dancing around the Maypole, I realized the real impetus behind my need to complete a teeth-grinding, sanity-questioning type task.

It's an exercise in memory preservation.

When I think back to my own crystal clear moments of childhood, I realize the reason they feel fresh and new like crisp, clean sheets is because often, somewhere there's a photo of the moment.

That doesn't mean the photo stands in for the memory.

It's actually the opposite. The photo is like an entry point to a memory that might otherwise be consigned to that inaccessible brain place where forgotten memories are stored.

My dreaded summer project, the one I put off as long as possible is important because it's my family's pictographic history, like the etchings we scratch on the walls of our modern cave.

They might not tell the whole story, but they're the key that will hopefully unlock all the memories, both good and bad, of young lives that morph into adulthood in the blink of an eye.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I've had a lot of time this summer to reflect.

Weekends, shuttling back and forth on the long hot expanse of I-5 blacktop that leads between Portland and my parent's farm as I watched the brain tumor slowly erase everything that made my father, my father.

Nighttime, sitting outside on the front steps that lead to the house I love, knowing that inside awaits the systematic dismantling of everything that made it a home.

Afternoons, brainlocked in my manuscript as I cut, smoothed, rewrote.

Here's what I've learned.

Although learned isn't the right word, not exactly. Instead I should say, here's what I've internalized.

Things happen in seasons. We can hold on tight or we can let go with grace. In the end, it doesn't matter what we choose because the tide that sweeps us along is stronger than whatever desperate grip or mental recalcitrance we can muster in its face.

Which isn't to say we are without choices. Far, far from it. The choices are endless. They stretch out in unending variety, waiting for us like a supersized bag of rainbow-colored Skittles, apparent the minute we open our eyes.

I'm at the end of my long summer of reflection.

My father is gone. My husband is set to return. Soon the house will be a vacant shell and our new lives in a suburban beltway town will begin.

I could spend the next three months burrowed inside myself waiting for a glimpse of sunshine or I could make my own. I can set our lives on launch speed, dive into our new community, the new book, new friends...everything that amounts to the next chapter (literally) with passion and energy.

It's a choice.

That's something else I've, not just realized or learned, but internalized. Life isn't guaranteed. No money back offers or refunds for less than satisfactory moments. It's up to me to devour it, create joy and savor all those little moments like they're a celebratory glass of Chateuneuf du Pape.

It's not just what my father would have wanted. It's what I want.

And understanding that, is the magic pill that makes all those choices go from impossible and invisible to crystal clear.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Dialogus Interruptus

Here's the thing...I love writing dialogue.

Here's the other thing...I have an equal love for eavesdropping on anything remotely resembling good dialogue.

It's a bad, bad habit. When teenage couples come into Starbucks, sit one table away and start talking about how they're using the rythym method, I shouldn't listen! I really shouldn't and yet I do.

There are conversations I tune out with ease. Neverending discussions of physical ailments are like the sound of a vaccuum cleaner when I'm writing. Pleasant white noise. Easily filterable.

Same goes for the quasi business meetings. However, I'm a sucker for job interviews. Do you know how many people interview potential employees at coffee shops? I do!! There are days when it's all I can do not to intercede. NOOOO. Don't give the 'I'm good with people answer'!

But I don't. I restrain myself. Or at least I did until last week.

We live in inner city Portland which means it's very walkable. As a result, every so often people walk through the neighborhood at odd hours of the night. Like 3:00 AM, for example.

The other night I was roused from a dead sleep by loud voices floating up to my second floor window which was thrown open wide to let in the night air. I'm not entirely sure why this group of boys/men, or as I started thinking of them, boys to men, decided to pause on the sidewalk below my bedroom window, but they did.

The dialogue that follows is a direct transcript of their conversation except the words 'stuff' and 'get with' are variations on the raunchier four letter words that were actually used.

"Dude, you gotta disappear for a while and be all, like mysterious and stuff. That's how you handle Xena."

"Yeah, just don't talk to her for a while and then she'll be so ready to get with you. She'll want it bad, bro."

(general laughter at this witticism)

"So you walk in and Xena's all like let's go and then you get with her and then you, like, don't talk to her for a week and then she's totally ready to get with you, like right after you text her."

"Dude, Xena's so hot! You gotta lock that stuff down."

What had been building as slow amusement turned into a sudden snort of laughter. Honestly, I just couldn't help myself. My disembodied giggling from on high put the boys to men on red alert.

Despite the foolproof plan they were crafting to 'get with' Xena, their brand of machismo apparently didn't extend to bravery in the face of female laughter. They took off at a dead run.

My advice to Xena...all you have to do is laugh.

My advice to me....control the giggles because that was some great 3:00 AM boys to men dialogue that I scared away.

And that, my friends, is one more reason I know I'm a writer. While some people might seethe about interrupted sleep, I seethe about dialogus interruptus.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Ride Share With My Two Hamsters

I will pay you $150 per delivery of live hamster to the Washington, D.C. area. Please contact Johanna to help arrange transportation for my children's precious pets.

That was the honest to goodness Craigslist ad I posted a couple of weeks ago...but before we talk about the general wackiness of it, let me back up a little.

When we announced our move to the kids, one of the first questions was, "Can we bring the hamsters!?!"

To which, I said 'Yes' in exactly the same way anyone would say yes when looking down the barrel of two pairs of sad eyes. I didn't give it too much thought and when I did think about it I assumed the hamsters would die, get lost or otherwise change status from cherished pet to fond memory.

Flash forward to a month ago. "It's $150 per carry on of live animal" my husband grumbled via text message.

"Great! Go ahead and book their flights," I texted back.

The next week I received another text in the hamster vein. "Turns out airlines don't allow hamsters as carry ons."

I'll admit it. I panicked. And then I started brainstorming

What I came up with was a Craiglist ad. Sure enough, within hours of placing it I'd received no less than six telephone calls from cross-country college students who were more than happy to have their gas money provided courtesy of Nixie and Nibble.

When I told my husband he was...slightly less ecstatic. "Really?" he said. "Can't we just get them new hamsters in DC? They only cost $15."

"You can't put a price on your children's psychological well-being," I told him.

"So finding them a new home is out?"

"Absolutely out!"

"What if they were to mysteriously die?"

"We're not really having this conversation!?!"

It should surprise no one who knows my husband that, miraculously, about twenty minutes later, it was discovered certain airlines do, in fact, accept hamsters at a rate that is 2/3 less than what I had offered in my Craigslist ad.

Even better, my husband has agreed to personally escort Nixie and Nibble to their new home. As for me, in under three weeks times, I'll be flying hamster-free with Child 1 and 2.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Pigeon Pose, Editing and Back to Blogging

It was only a month, but it felt like forever!

As much as I hear about the blogosphere being a time suck, in my month away all the positive attributes of the blogosphere (that negate any of its time sucky qualities) kept popping into my head.

Here are my top three.

Friends: Writer friends. There's been enough said on this topic by other people. I don't need to expound. Writer friends are in a category all by themselves because they KNOW about the day in, day out slog of writing a book. They're irreplaceable.

Practice: Like yoga, writing is a practice.

For me, editing a novel has a lot in common with being in pigeon position all day (okay, maybe not that excrutiating) but my point is it's only one muscle and writing requires that you be brain-fit from head to toe. Blogging, in my opinion, keeps the words fresh and nimble, ready to jump over large objects in a single bound.

Catharsis: Not everyone uses their blog in the same way I do. Some people have a pinpoint focus on their product. Some people have a specific theme like my very good writer friend Jenny Milchman who uses her blog to celebrate other writers' accomplishments by publishing their 'Made it Moments'.

Me, I just sort of talk about whatever's on my mind. This blog really is like a journal made up of little snippets of my life that take about twenty minutes to get down on virtual paper. I missed being all catharsis-y with you guys.

In my absence from the blogosphere I've basically spent every free moment in pigeon pose (see #2 above). The Virtual Life of Maisy Parker, is turning into exactly the kind of dark ride through the upper middle class privilege of east coast suburbia that I always envisioned it being.

This is, in  no small part, because Agent Emily has the same kind of vision for the book that I do. She's got me working hard. Pigeon pose, ripping open passages instead of muscles until the book is exactly where it needs to be before we start the submission process.
 Oh, and there's also the new book.

In my spare moments, when I haven't been distracted by pleas for ice cream, pool time, need to edit, phone calls, the imminent move that is tick-tocking its way closer every week or that beautiful summer sun, the next book has been weaving its way into my mind.

Scenes are being formed. Motivations understood. Losses calculated. I think it's going to be good. Really, really good. With any luck, by the time September rolls around I'll be in the passionate stages of a brand new affair with my latest book crush.

What have you been up to this summer? Fill me in....catch me up!!