Friday, April 24, 2015

Getting away from the monkey madness

I couldn't think of a better post title.

Probably because I have decision fatigue, (Thanks El!) which is the difficulty one has after making too many irrelevant or too many minor decisions. I don't usually suffer this, one thing I know about myself is I don't do well with too many choices.

I can handle change, because change is a constant, but I don't go in for the 'change it all' philosophy, but I can sense that in my life, I'm ready for a change. Don't know what kind, but all the signs are there. I have learned over the course of my life to just go with it, to see what comes of these little whispers of 'what if...'

This week was a loooong one. The boys are 'Over' the school year, and they have four weeks left. Drama Girl is 'Over' high school, but not ready for the 'Work World.' I had a slew of appointments which jarred my schedule almost every day, and also left me exhausted. I let myself get too stressed, too wound up and too, I don't know, too not the self I want to be. I forgot about being mindful, and that completely messed me up. I am more at peace when I am mindful. I forgot to be objective, to not take things in, to not hold on to things, to not make it about me, to let go, and to accept, to look for the peaceful path.

Which means I was grumpy, ate poorly, moped about, and was a little(lot) whiny and complainy.

I posted this on facebook:
“Be pitiful, for every man is fighting a hard battle."
Another variation is
“Be kind, for every man is fighting a hard battle."
It should be:
“Be pitiful, for every man, every woman, is fighting a hard battle."Often, children, too, but lets leave it at every man, every woman.

We all know that the angriest people are the unhappiest. Sometimes, the nicest, kindest people are
among the unhappiest. Sometimes, kindness is a weapon against misery, just like anger is. The saying was a great reminder for me to be be kind, not only to others, but sheesh, to myself, too. To accept what needs to be accepted, do what needs to be done, to 'be' where I am. 

Also, to not try to complain that the place I'm at is not the place I want to be, because as places go, it's not a bad place! We all have had our battles, or are having them now, or will have them one day. It's how we humans are. There is so much in our minds and in our heads, so we should be kind to others, even the ones who aren't really demonstrating their best qualities. We should also be kind to 
ourselves, because as long as we're trying to improve, we're improving. As long as we are
trying to be better, we're being better. We do make a difference, and we can make big impacts with small words of kindness.

So my long week is over, I've mentally reset myself, pulled myself out of the tired, stressed, wound up monkey mind world, and I've forgiven myself for getting dragged back into it because, of course, I spent at least a night moping at out how unmindful I was being, how I hadn't meditated, how I wasn't
going to work out three times a week and how I was not really taking care of myself. Because that was useful not at all, and now I'm going to get some writing in, because that is the best part of my nights. Well, that and reading really great books.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The unspoken part of my writing process

I should write down the funny things I say. I always say I'm going to do it. Last night, I said about 20 funny things, and thought 200 more.I can't remember them. They had to do with writing. Always, with me, the writing. Well, the writing, the kids, the writing...

I am 35K words into my next novel, while still trying to find a home for the second novel. My second novel is fun! Different! Seeking an agent! The first novel was given to the writing gods as sacrifice.

This is my third novel. Thirty-five thousand words. But it's so complicated, I had to stop and create timelines for my main characters, because they exist at different points in time. It's a science fiction novel. Thank Arthur C. Clarke for this novel-in-progress. Next is ordering the scenes.I've written 35K worth of scenes, but the order is wrong. I will probably end up losing 10K words. That's what happens generally in writing, but by doing the scenes now (never mind it probably would have been wiser to do earlier) I'll not write myself into a tangent or a hole. There is only one ending. I have to get them all there.

None of that was funny. Because now that I'm thinking I should write down all the funny stuff I say, I can't think of anything funny.

It would be funny if you could watch me mentally block out the timelines and scenes... my children are so used to my brainstorming and plotting process that I'm afraid they think it's normal.

"Doesn't everyone's mother walk around the house frantically, muttering under her breath and pulling her hair?"

Because that's my process. I literally pace out plots, scenes, characters and conversations. In my house, I pace back and forth while imaginary people in my head in period/time costumes and intricate settings hold entire conversations, discussions and arguments.

I say things out loud like, "No, no, wait, she can't start off there, the fish girl has to. Mmm. I think her mom's crazy. Should I kill her? Yah yah she has to die, or it won't work." Then I grasp my hair. Because it's so complicated! "Okay, wait, I got it. She definitely dies."

The boys just walk around me to get to their breakfast/snack/lunch of Cup o Noodle soup.

In the meantime, an angel and a young woman are having a conversation in a dark room with a clock. The microwave in my kitchen goes off, and I'm back, out of my head, thinking, 'Cup O Noodle again?' but then the girl says something in my head and the angel responds. Hair pull. Whaaat just happened there?

Another Cup-o-Noodle in the microwave for boy 2.

Our grocery situation is dire. I hope someone does something about it soon...

That's my writing process. I pace, plot, write dialogue and scenes. The children eat Cup-o-Noodle.

I know, I know, I haven't been on the blog for a while, but it's the nature of my brain. (see above)
Sometimes, I have so many thoughts and ideas and want-to-dos that my mind is like a giant super-hurricane - all a force of ideas and thoughts that swirl and storm and run wild and unchecked. All I can do is hunker down and wait for it to pass. When it does, I wander around the wreckage of my own head picking up the jewels that got unearthed or were tossed to shore.

So that's where I've been - in the messy super-hurricane-jumble of my mind. On the outside, that looks a lot like me sitting on my couch eating chocolate-coconut cookies, reading epic fantasy, streaming bad video, staring off out the window daydreaming and/or pacing the house.

It is useful, in a way, I guess. It usually clears up the problems in my writing or helps bring clarity to whatever situation set off the super-hurricane. Luckily, it never lasts long. Well, except when I was 13. I think it lasted an entire year. I don't really remember 13. I was probably daydreaming.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The tale of the bicycle saga

Get it?

Tale of a saga?

Anyhow, it's a tale of tragedy, betrayal, misfortune, and misdeeds, though none of the misdeeds were heroic. It's filled with guilt and love and money, and the strength of brotherly bonds. Well, not strength, exactly. And a mother's sorrow. It's based on a true story.

The night was dark, as they often are.
The children scattered and haphazard, as they often are.

The day was wonderful for spring and the boys were out on their bicycles all day long, riding and laughing and playing. Turbo was excited because he knew he was getting a speed bike come spring break (we have spring break late here) and Bear didn't care, because he didn't want one. He loved his bicycle. The green gobliny looking thing.

Nighttime came, and the boys locked up their bicycles, and came in.


One didn't.

One boy forgot one night.
The next morning, we were one bicycle less.

The one boy who forgot, looked at his lone bicycle, no longer leaning against his brother's.
His brother, who never. ever. ever. forgets to lock his bicycle.

There was rage.
I sighed.
I got in my truck and drove around the 'hood looking for the bicycle, knowing the outcome already, remembering the giggling punk-teenage boys I heard the night before, thinking nothing of it. Grumbling that a simple door-open would have sent them scurrying...


I said, let it be. It is a thing.
Bear said 'I know. I know.'  He was taking it far better than I expected, and wasn't quite sure what emotion to express. Mostly I think he didn't believe it. How could it be? What depraved minds would steal an 11-year old's bicycle? Ah, the sadness then, of having the safe world shattered.

I can't let a child suffer some one else's bad decision. I do believe that actions like that - stealing a bicycle or something that doesn't belong to you, taking what isn't yours, thinking it's a game, it marks you, it catches up to you at some point. I believe in a way they are lesser people (duh) devoid of the character traits that make people, well, people of strength or integrity or whatever.

Regardless, the bike is gone, someone stole it, and I said, well, this is a hard lesson to learn - but there really are people in the world who don't do the right thing. The bike is replaceable, and we'll replace it, but now, unfortunately, you understand why it's important to lock it up everywhere you go.

And then I bought him a bicycle.

I went to the bicycle store with my 11 year old and announced, while pointing to the youth bicycles, that this young man next to me (emphasizing the man, as he has longer hair than I do and may or may not have been wearing a pink shirt) needs a bicycle.

The bicycle guy looked him up and down. He looked at me. He looked at the bicycles I was pointint at.

"No. He needs an adult bicycle. How much you think he's going to grow this summer?"

What? He's 11. He's a boy. A youth. There are youth bicycles, right there.... cute ones.

But they were too small now, just like his bicycle was too small, so I had to get him a... a real bicycle. A bicycle that will last him through middle school and high school. His teenage-hood bicycle.

When we got home, and he hopped on that thing, riding it all around the neighborhood, the biggest kid on the tallest bike, he looked exactly like what he was. A boy on the verge of teendom.

I am currently feeling sad. I'm on the other edge of it now, the other side of babies and children. I'm on the short-path to empty nesting. I've got boys who this summer will shoot up, who will next year be in 6th grade, who may or may not have crushes, and who have opinions on hair and clothes and bicycles and oh so much more.


Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Pancakes for dinner, reaching for the hand

Who likes pancakes? We like pancakes. Who wants pancakes?
We want pancakes. When do we want pancakes? Dinner
is when we want pancakes!
We're still doing the 'Everyone Pick a Night and Cook.' Grilled ham and cheese on Tuesday (again - we're working on Turbo's recipe box) and tomorrow night is Butterfly Pasta courtesy Bear. Drama Girl is cooking us a lamb gyro on Sunday. Tonight, tonight was a pancake bar. More like pancakes and fruit and bacon bar, but still. It's always a nice treat on a weeknight to have a yummy breakfast for dinner. Who doesn't love pancakes? See Bear? See how ridiculously happy Bear is about his dinner?

Yesterday, I took Bear, to the dentist to have a cavity filled. It wasn't a big cavity, it was on a baby tooth, so it'll fall out soon anyhow, he's 11 after all, and he was a little nervous, but not overly anxious. This dentist is great, and knows the children in my family well enough to know he probably needs laughing gas and she had it set up for him straight away (why she knows that about my children is a long story that begins with Drama Girl - hint is in the name  - and well, Bear.)

While he was on laughing gas, he was kinda cute, kinda funny, nothing too crazy... he kept trying to talk the whole time. His tongue, he wasn't quite sure how it felt. Then he bit it, and wondered if that would hurt later. Felt his cheek was armor. Demonstrated an evil laugh. Nothing too crazy. But during part of it, he took his hand and waved it at me, this slow, childlike wave.

His 11-year old hand, with it's long, thin fingers. His skinny wrist leading to a hard, lean and lanky forearm. His fingers stretched out toward me and I wanted very much to scoot over and grab that hand. Except the dentist was in the way, and I don't think she would have appreciated being bowled over for a moment of sentiment.

See, Bear and Turbo, they aren't great hand-holders anymore. Not at all. Of all the things I miss the most in baby and toddler-hood, in preschool and kindergarten, is the chubby hand in mine. More than hugs which I sneak in the middle of the night, or super early when they are too tired to remember they don't hug much anymore.

I miss the clinging fingers grasping mine. I miss covering chubby hands in mine. I miss the reach for me, the joy when I grab their hand (mine, just as much theirs). I am glad I had those days. I cherished them.

Today, his hand is not chubby. I can no longer cover it with mine. His fingers are almost as tall as mine, as is he.

Don't even get me started on toes.

Too late.

Baby toes are cute. Soft and squishy and bizarrely cute.
Toddler toes are cute. Pudgy. Soft. Running on carpet. Running on dirt. Running on grass.
Preschooler toes are cute.
Kindergarten toes are even cute.

11 year old boy toes are not cute.
Bear's are long and thin, concerningly long and thin - toes should not form like that - and they are stinky.
Very stinky.

I have no desire to reach out for his toes anymore.

Just the hands.

In the truck, on the way home from the dentist, coming off the laughing gas, trying to make sense of his numbed mouth, wondering if he really did bite his tongue, he was unguarded, and I reached for his hand, and his hand reached for mine, like when he was five. and three. and one. and months old.

Long, thin fingers fell soft when in my hands. They didn't grasp and cling like they used to, but at 11, they really shouldn't, should they. Long, thin fingers, a thin wrist and a chatting boy, my boy, no longer the chubby toddler, reaching for my outstretched hand.

I was over the moon.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Anything and everything but writing

So far today, I've sent my first, okay second, novel off to two different agents. I'm now researching a few more, to see if I can hit four submissions today, but I'm getting bored with that, and the internet is not being very helpful.

It's mostly uninspiring. I lost an hour or so at Buzzfeed and got lost listening to Pandora while scrolling through Facebook. Saw some cat and dog images. Funny. Cute. Yawn.

So I decided to write instead, which means that I baked cookies and ate them instead. Now I'm drinking diet coke, happy the children saved me from more cookies, sad I ate all the Twizzlers I had stashed in my desk drawer. I could eat the bubble pop lollipop...

I decided looking up agents online is fraught with distractive peril in my current mood, so I decided to go old-school 'Guide to Literary Agents' book, but then got distracted by all the articles in it before you get to the agents. So I went back to online research, but got stuck on writer's digest's twitter feed, thinking the last thing I'm going to do is submit to a new agent accepting clients that just got posted on a twitter feed with a following of like, every writer.

I'm thinking I should stop writing the story I want to read and write romance. Or I could write a story about a cheeky new 20-something trying to make it in the world. Yawn. Or not.

I'm back to writing the story I want to read. Except now I'm distracted by Andy Weir's short stories and I'm thinking I could start writing short stories and post it on my blog. I've got one in mind. I should write that. Or the novel I'm actually writing.

It's a bit ridiculous, isn't it? All this back and forth in my head, designed to get me to do anything, everything, anything and everything except the one thing that I set out to do, which is write the story I'm actually writing, because I'm stuck at a point and it's hard.

But I really like the short story I have in my head. It'll keep til tomorrow. I've already written the idea down.

Right now, though, I should leave the internet, take my diet coke, and head back to my story.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Best Meat Pie Ever

The stickers are the best part of this letter. 
There are several versions of meat pie out in the world. If you google meat pie, invariably a French or British, and Australian  recipe will come up. Invariably is a great word.

You'll find   Almost every country has its own version, including Italy, and though my mother isn't Italian, this became her thing to make. When we were little, meat pie was an Event. We had it frequently enough that I remember it being made in the kitchen. We would hover by my mother because meat pie meant canned black olives, and nothing is better than black olives straight out of the can. She'd open the can, reach for something, and there we were, pinching as many as we could.  I remember one day my mother putting out the two loaves of dough to rise, and then coming home to find our dog, Jessie, lethargic, not moving, and with a much expanded belly, and only one loaf of bread remaining on the counter. It's a family memory we all share. Another time, my father was at the stove, bossing about something. Usually, we were hovering, sneaking black olives.

"Don't eat the black olives!"
"We won't!"

A long time ago, when I was young and newly married and thought my mother would be around forever, I asked her to send me the recipe. Now, you can find every recipe online, but back then, mailing them was still a thing. So she mailed the recipe to me, and I cherished it. I still have it, complete with the stickers, the misspellings, and the funny note about keeping it up high enough so the dog can't get it. She spelled dough like doe and wasn't quite sure why you poked holes in it, but suggested not doing so might make the meat pie blow up.

It's titled Italian American Meatpie. You can find many variations on this, but this is ours. You can also find French-Canadian variations, but they include a potato and don't include mozzarella cheese, so really, what's the point?

I haven't seen this particular recipe online anywhere, which is a crime against all lovers of meat pie, so here it is.

Two loaves of bread dough (just get the frozen kind and thaw and let rise - roll out on floured countertops)
Olive Oil
Basil, Oregano (basically, Italian seasoning)
Big can of sliced black olives
Mushrooms (I skipped this)
 1 lb Ground beef
 1 lb ground pork,
1 25 (26?) oz can of crushed tomatoes
Big bag of Mozzarella cheese

Saute the onions and garlic until onions are soft. Add in, and cook, the ground beef and ground pork. 

Pan of onions, garlic, pork and beef.

 Add olives, crushed tomatoes and spices, and stir it up.
Also, pick out  an olive, eat it, and stir some more.

The 'meat' in meat pie. Toss it in a pan lined with one of the rolled out loves of dough. 
I didn't mention that earlier. Roll out the dough on a floured counter when it's risen.
 Add the layers of mozzarella yumminess.
Cheese. Because dairy is just as important as meat.
Cover with bread dough, top with olive oil, poke holes, so it won't explode, and bake in 350 oven until bread is done.  One day, I'll come back and replace this image with a proper bread topping image.
See this? This is cheating. This is a pie crust topping. Use bread dough. 
It tastes that much better, it's just tonight is a weeknight...
 This is the end result. If you aren't a hacker/slacker, than you will have used the bread dough, and the result would be a thicker top crust and a much heartier pie. Either way, it tastes amazing, because how can meat and cheese not?

Monday, February 23, 2015

The freedom of writing the stories I want to tell

I'm totally posting excerpts of an e-mail to a friend of mine. I like to think our conversations are introspective and deep and philosophical, and if either of us end up famous, then years from now, the other will, also, simply because the electronic trail that binds us is filled with rich, thoughtful words. Well, and beautiful prose such as 'omigosh how did I ever think having kids was a good idea.' and 'do you think these shoes are me?' and 'My husband is driving me freakin' crazy...' One of us will be famous, and the other will be 'the famous author's best friend.' One hundred years from now, and maybe it'd be 'Famous author - best friend... or?' Ha! She'd die.

I read something about writing for those of us who are not published or famous or clever enough to write the next pop culture scandalous thing. The gist of it was that no author is ever really satisfied, that success has its own issues, and there is only one time you are truly free to write the stories you want, only one time to write and play and experiment with your writing, and that is all the time that you are unpublished. Once you become published, the machine kicks in, there are expectations, and you must produce, perform again and again, usually based on the 'thing' that made your book a success: Did you write a clever detective cozy? Great! You better have loved it, because that's what your agent will probably want in your next book. That's not a bad thing, not at all, if that's what you love. I love the Inspector Gamache series, and am glad the author enjoys writing those books! 

It's also why I think it's important to write the type of story you can write again.

But the freedom piece, it's true. It's the one thing I think all aspiring authors should hold on to. Perseverance, time, luck, patience and talent will get you published in the end, but the freedom of an unpublished author is a child playing make-believe. We can be whoever and whatever we want without the rules, expectations, constraint and 'work' of actually being it. 

In an industry where 50 agents is nothing to go through, maybe 100 before you get published, and where 50 Shades of Utterly Poor Writing gets selected over probably several remarkably written books, well, that isn't a resounding mark of confidence in the argument that truly talented writers will get picked up. It is true publishing is a 'for profit' industry, and though no one can say 'what will be hot' next, well, there's more harm in trying to write on trend and for profit than there is in trying to write the story you want to write, the tale you want to tell. If you're talented, and talent and luck are the two requirements, well, you can't go wrong. This is the advice every successful writer passes on - write what you want to write, write for yourself, because that's the best way to succeed.

I love reading Neil Gaiman, he's an inspiration, simply because he gets it... maybe he's got more marketing skillz, more cajones (he lied on his resumes!) and more talent, but at his heart, he's a writer. He writes stories. They sell. It works for him.

I say, as many successful authors say, write what you want to write, write for yourself, because you'll enjoy it more, and because there are far other, easier, ways to make a hell of a lot more money. We all want to be published, us aspiring authors, and we'd all love to be prolific authors. But that's not enough really, for me. I want to be a prolific author of stories I want to tell, not stories I figure will sell.

It's a difficult place to manage, I suppose, for successful authors, and if I ever get there, we'll see how I manage, but tonight, just tonight, just this one night, I believe I will be, simply because I have so many stories to tell. How can it be possible that not one or two or five find their way out into the world?