Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Arctic Blast Freezes Writing

I promised to write a follow up to the saddest day, in which our dear hamster expired, but then it snowed.

And snowed some more.

And school was cancelled.

And cancelled some more.

It's funny how the advent of a snow storm causes an inverse relationship on the delight spectrum Chez Garth.

Snow is a BIG DEAL to my kids. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn't snow much in Portland. Hardly at all, in fact. Which is why snow is really, really exciting.

Time to work, however, is a BIG DEAL to me. Hence the almost tears when the third snow day in a row was announced.

Even though it feels like I've barely gotten back to work since the holiday's, I decided that maybe my kids could use a break from front yard snow, the new hamster (Yes. We got one. She's adorable) and video games.

I lucked onto two sleds, not snapped up by the craze of likeminded housebound peoples, and tramped across a field to a perfect snowy hill.

We spent all morning doing runs. Our cheeks turned bright pink and we stopped snapping at each other like animals trapped in a cage that's one size too small.

"There's definitely going to be school tomorrow," I said to a mommy friend who'd joined us. "Don't you think?"

"Yes, of course," she said, kindly ignoring the hint of desperation in my voice. "This can't go on forever."

It turns out she was right. The kids had school on Friday...with a two-hour delay. It's a good thing the Virginia school year is longer than the one we had in Portland because, combined with this week's mid-winter break, that gives us another four day weekend, I just might have to write January off as a writing wash.

The good news is we had fun!


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Saddest Day

If you're my friend on Facebook you might already know the preceding week was a hard one for me.

One of our beloved hamsters, the same hamster that survived the flight from PDX to DCA, misjudged the width of that tiny slice of space on display when an interior door is open; the back edge of the door where hinge meets wall.

She tried to ram herself through that space and got stuck, head on one side, little body frantically wiggling on the other like a tragic Pooh Bear. Unlike the A.A. Milne version, the beginning of my story was heralded by shrieking children ascending from the basement in a panic.

We tried moving the door, ever-so-slightly, to see if we could make that small space slightly wider. I had the bright idea of dousing the hamster with water to see if that might make her slide out.

By the time I returned, ten seconds later, it was too late. A puddle of blood had formed beneath her mouth. Her eyes were vacant.

I covered the hamster with a cloth and ushered the kids upstairs to the living room. We all cried. They suggested mouth to mouth. They suggested a pet hospital. They told me stories of people who have been technically dead then come back to life.

Here's the thing I realized about my kids. They don't accept death easily. Here's the second thing I realized; they were going to need to see the body.

Except, gruesomely, little Nixy's body was still stuck in the door.

It's funny how quickly our instinctual aversion to dead things sets in. What was alive and cuddly ten minutes ago quickly goes to an it, something we don't want to touch.

I found a spatula in the kitchen, (the long-handled variety) and maneuvered the hamster out from between door and wall, trying not to notice how said maneuvering made her head twist at Linda Blair angles. I laid her on a towel and told the kids they could say their good byes.

We mourned.


"I just want to go back to that moment before she ran in that direction and scoop her up," said my daughter. "I want it to not have happened."

I wondered if that's the way everyone feels after a tragedy, even one as minor as the death of a hamster.

Whenever bad things happen in my life, I too find myself longing for that moment right before the cloud of badness burst open to reveal what was lurking around the corner. Even in movies or novels I have a hard time with destruction. I don't like things to get messy or go too deeply under the surface.

Which makes it odd that my books focus on all those dark, uncomfortable places. Or maybe not so odd. If writing is a cheap form of therapy it stands to reason some of us writers would use our words to push on the sore spots, testing to see if they're still there and what it means when you press down hard and they hurt.

What about you?

Is your writing therapeutic?

And don't worry, I'll have part two to the hamster diaries coming up in the next post.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Stepladder to Success

Success so often is defined in numbers.

I know it was easier me for me to feel confident about my career when I was practicing law. I could define my success by the number of hours I worked, the size of my bonus and how many deals I was able to juggle at the same time.

So often, when I think about my writing career and read fellow writer's blogs, I feel like we are all groping through the fog in search of hard and fast rules, the kind found in the corporate world, that will allow each of us to climb the ladder of success for writing. 

First the bad news.

There aren't any hard and fast rules. As much as we might search and wish, there's no recipe for the kind of good writing that will lead to success.

But, the flip side to the bad news is the vacuum of linear steps to writing success means we get to write our own rules, which should be fine, us being writers and all. 

Most writers I know make an effort to read publishing newsletters, attend conferences and generally keep abreast with the industry. I believe these are important activities, but it's equally important for writers not to lose sight of the fact that, the industry is us.

The writers. We're the ones with the words and as we write our words, we also write the rules.

It's hard to know who's going to be the next Neil Gaiman or Ursuala LeGuin. Even Neil Gaiman and Ursula LeGuin don't have have access to that information. But at some point, some writer's work will bubble up out of the huge soup of words that is produced each and every day. Their work will be recognized as fresh, new and maybe even groundbreaking. They will, literally, have written their path to success.

Maybe it will be one of my writer friends who rises out of the slushpile to take hold of our
national conscious, or who am I kidding, wouldn't it be lovely if it were me. But the point is, as much as we'd like it to be, the creative world isn't a straight line. It's more of a mosh pit, where someone periodically gets to ride on top of the wave of hands before being deposited back down on the ground.

Instead of searching for benchmarks, rules and stepladders to success, I think we should enjoy our unprecedented ability to lose ourselves on the creative dance floor, mixing and mingling in person or via the internet with people whose ideas spark and ignite with our own, like thousands of pieces of tinder rubbing together to create a forest fire of words.

Like I said, we get to make our own rules for success, and in the process we just might redefine all the rules that came before. Which, when you stop to think about it, is so much cooler than climbing the ladder one step at a time.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Last year's resolutions were all about survival.

Getting through the year.

If I were superstitious, the last year would have been enough to make me think there's something behind the rumors of unluck that swirl around number 13.

This year, I decided to expand my horizons past the goal of survival. In the past, my New Year's resolutions have rotated between the practical and manageable: Eat a piece of fruit every day. To the amorphous and unchartable: Bring kindness into the world.

That second direction, amorphous and unchartable, was the way this year's resolutions were headed. I'm going to be kind, I told myself on New Year's Eve. And then later in the day, I resolved to be accepting. A kind person, accepting of other people's flaws, who eats a piece of fruit each and every day. So you know, basically perfect.

But then, on New Year's Day, I had an epiphany regarding the PERFECT resolution.

This year, 2014, will be the year of presence. I'm going to immerse myself as wholly as possible in the present moment. Ironically, I made this resolution while doing yoga, so clearly, this year's goal might be a bit of a challenge for me.

I always thought multi-tasking was a good thing, but lately I wonder what my distractedness causes me to miss.

I wonder if I'm like a child in the backseat of the car, head down in a comic book, headphones on, texting on the side while panoramic views of the Grand Canyon sweep past unseen.

There's no way to keep track of all the moments when I'm not present, but I can make an effort to be present in real measurable ways throughout my day, and not just for writing which is the thing that often sucks me, not only out of the present moment, but into an alternate universe.

I'll start small; really engage in a conversation about Skylander's Swap Force and what strange new thing occurred in the sixth grade. And build up from there.

Who knows what I'll discover. Maybe it'll be a landmark kind of moment, fondly remembered for years to come. Maybe it'll just be that video games are every bit as boring as I suspected.

What about you? Do you make resolutions? Are they the quantifiable kind or are they more slippery?