Friday, October 10, 2014

For the love of a good chapter book

"I cried while I was reading 'Charlotte's Web' to Lily today," I told Brad the other day.

"Seriously?" he said.

"Yeah. Lily kept asking me why my nose was red and offered to get me tissues. She was worried and confused."

"Your nose does get really red when you cry." 

To which I told him that it's always felt unfair that an emotional basket case such as myself should not at least be given the power to cry neatly and discretely like those stoic eye dabbers who seem to handle sadness with grace and cool.

Given the fact that the girls have been on a bit of a "Charlotte's Web" kick, watching the movie at least three times last week, Brad was surprised that I cried over the book. Shouldn't I be used to it by now?

But it's different when you're reading it, I told him. When your little one is snuggled up next to you and you get to the part at the end where Charlotte knows she's dying but doesn't tell Wilbur, because she knows how distraught the news will make him. 

And you read this passage where Wilbur asks Charlotte why she's been such a good friend and you're filled with the memories of childhood and the perpetual sentimentality of motherhood:
"Why did you do all of this for me?" he asked. "I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you." 
"You have been my friend," replied Charlotte. "That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that." 
Even now, as I read it for the 100th time, tears.

Because it sums up how fleeting our time is, right? A minute ago I was 8 or 9 reading about Fern and Wilbur and Charlotte and the Geese and Henry Fussy and the ferris wheel. And now I'm grown and sharing it with Lily and Jovie. And in a second they'll read it themselves. And then a few more minutes, and they'll be the ones crying over the miracle of friendship and the brevity of our time here. 

More so than when I was little, I relate to Charlotte. How she recognizes her own faults in a messy world and wants to do even the smallest thing to make it better. To make it matter just a little more than it did before she arrived.

So that's why I cried. And if I'm the only one here, well, just tell me enough already and point me to the nearest bottle of Zoloft.

I'm on a bit of a middle grade kick recently. Especially where friendship is the central theme. 

I just finished reading my friend Beth's excellent debut, "Pack of Dorks."

The book shares the story of Lucy, who goes from being one of the most popular girls in fourth grade to a social outcast with just one kiss. To make matters worse, Lucy's parents are distracted by the birth of her little sister, born with Down Syndrome. So she's left to navigate her new-found status on her own until, until she joins forces with the classmates she'd previously looked down on.

Just as "Charlotte's Web" tells the story of an underdog (well, underpig) who learns to love himself because a friend believed he was worthy, "Pack of Dorks" illustrates the power of a smile and the importance of making room for everyone at the (lunch) table. 

The characters only become their best selves when they're able to look past their misconceptions of those around them. What a fantastic message to share with our children. And Beth writes the story with sassiness and humor both kids and adults will appreciate. Lucy is imperfect, but trying. Just like the rest of us.

Reading "Pack of Dorks" made me remember this day back when I was 11 or 12. I was walking home from school and these two boys from my class were following behind barking at me. For two blocks. I refused to turn back to acknowledge them or let them see the tears streaming down my face. I remember the boys' names to this day, but will refrain from outing them with the hopes that they're adolescent assholery was just a phase and that they're nicer people now. 

As a tween (that term didn't really exist when I was a tween) I felt somewhat adrift. I had a friend or two, but not that type you could really count on as an ally against howling boys. At that point, my sister Sarah would've been in middle school. I'm sure had she been walking with me that day, she would've stood up for me. She's never been real tolerant of jerks. 

I hope my girls won't have to deal with jerks. But life is as long as it is short, so I suppose it's inevitable. When the day comes that they're faced with someone trying to diminish them, that they have the right friends who can build them back up. 

For that matter, I hope my girls are never the jerks. 

It's funny to re-read the books of your childhood as an adult. I don't know that I ever had an appreciation for E.B. White's simple prose, even as he laid the foundation for my love of writing.

And farms. I love this passage from "Charlotte's Web":
"The barn was very large. It was very old. It smelled of hay and it smelled of manure. It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows. It often had a sort of peaceful smell -- as though nothing bad could happen ever again in the world. It smelled of grain and of harness dressing and of axle grease and of rubber boots and of new rope. And whenever the cat was given a fish-head to eat, the barn would smell of fish. But mostly it smelled of hay, for there was always hay in the great loft up overhead. And there was alway hay being pitched down to the cows and the horses and the sheep."
Since reading it, I've uncovered some other E.B. White moments in life. Like this note my sister Laura posted to Facebook recently:
"Good news. Good news. The bulbs from White Flower Farm (courtesy of Mom and Dad) arrived today. The timing couldn't be more perfect. I will bring them on Saturday so that all takers may choose! These little beauties will provide sustenance for our souls throughout the winter as we daydream of the moment their tender shoots pierce the frozen tundra and their sunny faces greet us. Hope in a box."
And the other night when Lily ran through the house shouting: 
"Come on everybody, come quickly. I want to show you something amazing. The moon! The moon! The moon! Isn't it beautiful?"
I got teary then, too (surprise, surprise). But it was too dark for Lily to see my red nose.

Lily's moon.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Life as a phony fraud

This article titled "8 Practical Steps to Getting Over Your Impostor Syndrome" showed up on my Facebook feed today (shared by Amy Poehler's Smart Girls, which you should "like" if you're a girl or someone who appreciates smart girls), so I clicked on it.

Why? Because I didn't believe impostor syndrome was an actual thing and I wanted to get to the punchline.
A dog trying to be a person.
But there was no punchline. It's a thing. 

From Wikipedia
Impostor syndrome ... is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
And though it's not officially in the DSM, psychologists and other sciencey sorts "acknowledge that it is a very real and specific form of intellectual self doubt."

A princess trying to be a pirate.
Anyway, I'm pretty sure I have it. 

And not just me. I could name a whole slew of women who feel like (but aren't!) frauds. While the articles on Impostor Syndrome focus on professionals, I have to say that I know plenty of mothers who fit this description.
  • According to the pediatrician, our children are "growing beautifully" on the curve, yet we don't hear this as affirmation that we feed them well, instead focusing on what picky eaters they are and how they run in terror at the sight of a vegetable.
  • According to the strangers we pass at the grocery store, our children are adorable and/or well-bahaved, yet all we focus on is the cream cheese crusted on their upper lip or the tantrum they through 5 minutes ago. "They're not always like this," we reply. And while we blame ourselves for every millisecond of bad behavior, we fail to see our impact on their moments of sweetness and kindness to others.
  • According to the fact that they come over to our house, our friends might actually enjoy coming over to our house, yet we tell ourselves that they are probably judging the smallness of the house, our lack of decorating prowess, the stains on the carpet and the fuzzy spots on our kitchen floor. We never take their presence as a sign of affirmation, but rather a reminder of what is lacking or what still needs to be done.  
  • According to friends and family members, we are great moms. Our kids are lucky to have us. But we know (we KNOW!) just how mistaken they are. That if they only heard how often we explode at our kids or saw how much time we spent focused on our smartphones rather than on tending to their needs, they'd finally understand how terrible we actually are at this job. 
  • According to our kids, who offer unsolicited hugs, who crave being close to us, who miss us when we're not in earshot or eyesight, who love our macaroni and cheese (even if it's from a box) and who tell us so earnestly and often that they love us, we are more than adequate as mothers. Yet, we still think we're not good enough for them. Somehow not worthy enough.
Step two of "8 Practical Steps to Getting Over Your Impostor Syndrome" reads "When you receive positive feedback, embrace it with objectivity and internalize it. By denying it, you are hurting that person's judgement."

So each time I second-guess my friends, family, my own children -- roll my eyes at their compliments and offer only obligatory thanks without really believing it, I'm second-guessing their judgement. Devaluing their opinion.

And they're smart, competent people. The type of people I emulate. Maybe the type of people I already am. 

Of course, motherhood isn't the only place I'm often convinced I'm a fraud.

A baby trying to be a bunny.
My friend Beth* edited the first draft of my manuscript. She offered so much helpful feedback -- commenting on the sections she thought worked really well, highlighting areas of dialogue or scenes that made her laugh or cry, pointed out my overuse of dashes and underuse of commas and offered aha! fixes to awkward transitions and attributions. 

And she was so generous and supportive when she finished the whole story:
"Thank you for trusting me with your beautiful story, Sue! I love the parallels you’ve created—that seeing Daniel’s wasted life inspires Eleanor to seize hers, that the life growing in Mo carries her through the life she lost, that everyone has to decide in the end to let go of what is holding them back. It’s a story that sticks with people, one that we can all relate to…"
But. (Us frauds are always looking for the buts … we actually mentally fill in the 
'buts' before anyone ever gets a chance to add their own buts. We're kinda know-it-alls about buts) But, it wasn't perfect. 

That's not actually at all what Beth said. 

What Beth did was offer totally legitimate, constructive and spot-on advice on how to make the story stronger. 

What my brain did was morph that advice (the advice I'd asked for, by the way) into confirmation that I was a terrible writer. That the whole first part of her note where she was affirming my work, was just the pat on the head you give an incompetent person for their "effort." The latter part of the email, the part I fixated on, reflected her true feelings about my work, which was that I was redundant and had "had problem" (i.e. It would help the narrative to use a more active voice). 

Now, the former editor in me and the objective Sue knows that all her suggestions are manageable. That she's not calling for a complete overhaul of the story structure, but rather that I do some thoughtful editing to help the narrative move along at a better pace. 

The neurotic wannabe novelist in me spent the last week avoiding eye contact with my manuscript. And actually feeling embarrassed, mortified even that I'd shared it with anyone. I considered telling another friend to just stop reading it altogether so that he wasn't wasting his time. 

Who am I kidding, right? I'm not a writer.

A fake writer trying to be Cousin It.
Again, objective Sue understands this sounds extreme. And believe me, I'm not sharing this to beg for anyone's praise or reassurance. By now, it should be clear that I probably wouldn't believe anything you had to say, anyway. I'll work on that.

I'm sharing because my site's called "My Inside Voices" and my inside voices seemed an appropriate topic -- especially since my gut tells me that so many of us experience these same feelings.

"By definition, most people with impostor feelings suffer in silence. … Most people don't talk about it. Part of the experience is that they're afraid they're going to be found out." ("Feel like a Fraud?"

The feelings we suffer in silence are the ones we should talk about. So here we are. 

When I read my short story back in August, one of the other winners approached me at the end of the event and told me about an open-mic he was hosting in Lancaster for fiction writers. He suggested I come and read something. 

In that moment … despite the fact that I've been writing stories for as long as I can remember … I felt like I was finally part of the tribe. For a minute. 

Just like on those days when my girls eat their dinners, clean up their toys and go to bed without extra shenanigans, I feel like I'm doing alright as a mom. So, you can guess how often that is.

Anyway, as I was writing this post I got a note from Beth:  

"So I know you and Eleanor* are taking a break, but I can't stop thinking of your story and I really, really want you to promise not to give up on it."

Some people make it really hard to be an impostor.

* just told me my copy of Beth's first book "Pack of Dorks" shipped today! If you have any 8 to 12 year olds or appreciate great writing regardless of genre, you should check it out.  

** Eleanor is the protagonist in my story. I should probably let Beth know we got back together. I started working on those big-picture revisions last night.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Now what? A novel question

So I finished my novel.

Now what?

Several of my friends, no doubt weary of having heard about this phantasmic work for years now, have asked me what I do next. When will I publish the book? As if they somehow want physical proof that all that whining and crying and groaning and optimism quickly followed by deep depression was for an actual thing. 

As if.

I've invented some admittedly uninformed response that involves having people edit it and then looking for a literary agent.

From what I've read about the process (which isn't much) after spending anywhere from months to years to an eternity querying agents, I then have the opportunity to face another gauntlet of rejection as said agent attempts to sell said work to a publisher.   

It's probably better that I haven't done any adequate research on getting published -- I feel pretty defeated with the minimal amounts of information I have. I can't imagine how any responsible wannabe novelist who actually studies up on how to get published actually follows through on any of it.

It stands to reason that only the most blindly optimistic of people enter into this journey. Which doesn't seem to describe writers at all. 

Anyway. Now what? I'll tell you. 

I found a few people who generously offered to read the first draft when they could be reading the final version of actual published books or watching the movie/TV spinoffs anyway.

And now that I've re-read it, I fully understand the depth of their sacrifice.

I also picked up a copy of Writer's Digest yesterday. So that's something. I have to say I felt a little pretentious and a lot silly doing it. I felt like I needed to tell the cashier that it wasn't for me -- I was just buying it for a friend. "Of course," she would've said winking.

There's a list of "28 agents looking for new writers right now!" 

And then I scan the list and realize I really need to nail down the genre for my MS (that's manuscript -- it says so in the "industry lingo" breakout box). I can do this by process of elimination -- it's not a mystery, thriller, young adult, middle grade, romance or sci-fi. 

What's the genre for book about regular people dealing with upsetting, though not especially unusual situations?

What's that invisible literary agent? You say there isn't a genre for that because those books don't get published?

Hmm. How 'bout we just call it new adult? 

I guess I should also spend more time developing a social media presence so I can stalk reach out to potential agents and "tribe" members. Because shilling myself to strangers online while trying not to make eye contact with the pile of dishes in my sink and simultaneously blocking out the pained cries of my children who would prefer my phone be used for endless games of Peekaboo Barn or, better yet, not at all, sounds totally reasonable. 

As much as I love to hate on the writing process, I'm pretty sure this next phase of noveling will be a sinkhole of despair. 

You've been warned.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A performance review (by Lily and Jovie)

Friday I dropped Lily off at preschool for the first time. 

She was unsure for a moment as she looked around the technicolor classroom. We hung her new Minnie Mouse backpack on a hook, washed her hands and then she hugged me and said "Goodbye mother," as solemn as a priest offering last rites. She did the same for Brad and we left. No tears for anyone.

Two hours later we picked her up. She was all smiles. I asked her if she had fun. "Yes!" she said. I asked her if she was excited to go back on Monday. "Yes!" she said.

And that's when I got teary. Because she was so confident … so ready for this first step to independence, and I had this realization that she wasn't all mine anymore. That the days that I witnessed all of her doing -- her eating and reading and playing and fighting and laughing and yelling and crying and cuddling -- those days that used to belong to me are going to start dwindling. Sure, right now it's only six or so hours a week … but it's only a matter of time before it's 30 hours a week. And then gone. Excuse me, I need to snivel for a minute.

With Lily's 4th birthday coming up this week, I amused myself by imagining what the girls would say if they did an annual performance review of me as a mother:

Annual Performance Review for Mom 

September 2014
In case you need a reminder of how far I've come mom, this is me, Lily, on the night I was born.
Remember that? It was 3:40 in the morning. I've always been an early riser.

Well mom, another year down at Lily & Jovie Inc. It's hard to believe it's been almost four years since you first came on board to what was then Lily Inc. We've been relatively pleased with your performance and contributions to our organization and look forward to helping you grow in the year to come.

To start with, let's discuss the many victories you had this year. 

Notable accomplishments include:

Here's Jovie on the night of the big Lily & Jovie Inc. merger back in 2012.
She's pretty cute, too, I guess. If you like squishy cheeks, dimples and big blue eyes.
  • Identifying that rancid smell in the trashcan -- I know you weren't able to crack the code as to what that tarry gooey substance hanging out on the bottom of the bin was, but we're grateful you were able to scrub it out. The aroma in the garage entrance is much less pungent now.
  • Mastering the appropriate voices for Melman and Luann the fishy puppets. We've been highly entertained recently by the fish puppets antics -- especially Luann's loud and insistent refusal to eat yogurt and Melman's propensity for screaming when we wake him up from his naps. We would like to note that we don't think the game of fishy puppets should be over when we start pretending to be sharks and bite the puppets and by extension your hands located inside the puppets. We're just demonstrating our knowledge of the food chain and feel you should embrace our methods of creative and educational play.
  • Removing Play-Doh from various tubes, toys, floors, furniture, and -- on one occasion -- Lily's nose. We would again like to submit our request that Play-Doh be kept accessible at all times -- as we never know when the urge might strike to smoosh tiny balls of it into the grout on the sunroom floor. (See note above about creative play.)
Opportunities for Improvement:

Time Management
We feel this is one of the strongest areas of potential growth for you. We both feel that you need to re-prioritize how much time you spend on various duties. For instance, we think you spend far too much time focusing on janitorial responsibilities (i.e.: laundry, vacuuming, de-cluttering, etc.) as well as meal preparation and not enough time on providing the proper stimulus for us. 

We propose (and by propose, we mean demand) that you spend less time cooking and cleaning (unless, of course, we want macaroni and cheese or chocolate chip cookies, or Lily's Sofia the First pajamas and Jovie's Cookie Monster shirt need to laundered) and more time focusing on our growth and development, by engaging in games of our choosing until we become bored, start needlessly beating each other or it's snack time again, whichever comes first. Our game preferences include:

1. Monster: You chase us around the tree in the backyard roaring occasionally (with gusto!). And no, we don't care that the endless loops around the tree make you nauseous and dizzy. 
2. My Little Pony: We flop around on Jovie's bed pretending to morph into various ponies while you act as Princess Twilight Sparkle, occasionally making up songs about us on the spot and chasing away the monster (i.e. Snacks)
3. Mickey Mouse: You pretend to be Goofy while Lily as Minnie Mouse and Jovie as Daisy Duck prepare for Minnie Mouse's birthday. Note, this is the only time it is permissible to use a voice other than your own. We really must emphasize your use of a Scottish accent during story time made us uncomfortable and angry. Please stop.

We don't mind putting together puzzles or coloring pictures, so long as you witness the placement of each individual piece or the drawing of each individual line while marveling at how amazing we are. We know you think these quiet-time activities are an opportunity for you to take care of your other duties, but we really feel all other duties should be delegated to between the hours of 8 p.m. and 5:30 a.m., when we are sleeping. You can handle that, right? 

We understand that despite the fact that we are adorable, hilarious, sweet, intelligent, energetic, inquisitive and all-around amazing people, who any other person would be elated to spend their days with, that sometimes you experience stress during your day. We are going to go ahead and assume that we are not the cause of your stress, but rather that "other job" you do which requires you sit in front of the computer typing words rather than watching that creepy episode of My Little Pony where Princess Twilight Sparkle wants to marry her adopted brother or Parry Gripp music videos, (which is what we'd prefer you do on the computer, by the way). We know it can be difficult to juggle multiple responsibilities -- trust us. Just the other day, in fact, Jovie had to decorate cookies for Lily's preschool class while simultaneously tasting the icing and eating all the sprinkles -- multitasking is difficult work, yet she managed to do it with a smile. We know it's impossible to smile all the time (especially when we require that you open your mouth and say "ahhhhh" while we shove the otoscope down your throat during our many sessions of "checkup"), but we do request that you limit your heavy sighs, eye rolls, annoyed grunts, foot stopming, heavy-handed buckling and all-out ranting for the moments that really require such extreme reactions -- like when the dog knocks over Lily's block tower or Jovie spills applesauce on her shirt. We're often confused at your dismay and frustration while performing your child-rearing duties -- did anybody ever tell you parenthood was easy? 

We know you've expressed that it's more practical and comfortable to stick with your rather shabby looking uniform of jeans or shorts paired with a nondescript, ill-fitting  solid colored T-shirt. We'd like to use the opportunity to encourage you again to wear more dresses, sparkly jewelry and tiaras to work. We'd be happy to act as wardrobe consultants each morning if that would help. In the past you've said dresses aren't really suited for chores like scrubbing the kitchen floor -- we'd like to point to Cinderella, who managed to scrub the foyer of an entire chateau while wearing a dress (and a smile, we might add!).

Recently, you've been refusing to purchase items we've requested during our frequent trips to Target. While Lily appreciates the 25 cents allowance you started giving her each week, and really enjoys playing with the coins in her piggy bank, we don't believe these little play circles should serve as a replacement for the items we really, really want at Target. You've told us that you're trying to prevent a sense of entitlement in us and teach us how to value a dollar. We're not really sure what any of that means, but we want to assure you that we aren't entitled. We just really, really want the toys we see and feel that we should be able to have them the moment we see them for no other reason than we really, really want them.

Meal preparation
While we know you feel pressured by society, the pediatrician and all those moms whose kids eat things like sashimi and foie gras, we believe you should focus on making things we will actually eat. Let's face it, you can put green beans, carrot sticks and baked chicken on our plate all you want, but you know and we know we're not going to eat it. So why not just go ahead and make a week's worth of macaroni & cheese every Sunday night (after 8 of course!). We'll just supplement that with yogurt and cereal and call it a day. Haven't your stress levels gone down already? It's really a win-win.

Musical selection
We'd like to take this opportunity to remind you that we'd prefer you allowed us to make all decisions as to what sort of music we listen to while in the car. Our preferences here include:

1. The soundtrack to "Happy Feet 2"
2. "Jake and the Neverland Pirates" music
3. Dad's Jimmy Buffet mix

Don't feel that you constantly have to switch CDs -- we're perfectly content with listening to the same album several days in a row. And we ask that you limit your singing to only those times we request to hear it -- so basically, no singing. At all. Ever. Please. It's awful. (Unless, of course we need a repertoire of songs before bedtime.)

Here's an AV aid in case you need a reminder of how to be happy
 (and how to appropriately dress the dog).

Mom, we see so much potential in you and really think the upcoming year could be your best yet! Thanks for all your hard work this past year -- especially all those times you took us to get ice cream, let us watch extra cartoons and resisted the temptation to sing along with the soundtrack of Disney songs you grew up with. For 2014/2015 we hope to see you smiling more and worrying less, which will ensure maximum profitability of Lily & Jovie Inc. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

The reading and the end

Lately, I've had a rather difficult time controlling my temper. 

In fact, Lily and Jovie would probably ask that all available parties conduct an intensive search for my temper, because it appears I'm constantly losing it. 

(Perhaps I should tether it to me with one of those little elastic clippies that parents use to affix pacifiers to onesies -- as to prevent the the cataclysmic explosions that occur following pacifier loss. Or, maybe I just need a pacifier.)

I don't know whether it's that the girls are finding new and interesting ways to push my buttons or that I'm not getting enough sleep or that my lifetime stores of patience are dipping dangerously low or if it's a combination of all three. 

Either way, it's become an area of growing concern for me. I don't like yelling. I don't like throwing things on the floor or slamming my fist on the table. I reprimand my children for that behavior and I hate myself each time I fail to control my actions.  

My temper has become an unwelcome doppelganger in my life. And I'm starting to think that we shouldn't chide people for acting like a child, they watch us, afterall. Maybe they should be reprimanded when they act like a grownup.

So Friday dawns -- the day of my Big Reading for YorkFest's opening reception. I was not feeling especially excited about it. I felt worn out and moody, not to mention I had no idea what to wear. Then at some point in the afternoon Lily did something -- maybe shoved Jovie in the face or demanded something in a manner that made me feel like The Help (which she'd been doing all day already). Whatever it was, I lost it. Again. I screamed at her to stop screaming at me (such an effective method for conflict resolution) and then immediately felt like a troll. 

I did not feel like I deserved to have this great moment standing in front of a group of creative sorts sharing this dumb short story I wrote. I certainly didn't feel like I deserved the bouquet of flowers Brad sent me. I felt like I deserved to be hiding under a bridge somewhere, looking for goats to eat or something. 

Brad got home early to help with the girls. I figured out what to wear. Lily told me I looked beautiful.

We all headed to the gallery together. Lily and Jovie were the only children there (well, only children under high-school age). 

Hamming it up before I read.
As my nerves started jittering, my friend Becky walked through the door -- braving D.C.- and Baltimore-area rush hour traffic to share my night -- a complete surprise. When my nerves started getting extra jumpy, my sister Sarah walked through the door -- braving Baltimore-area traffic to listen to my story. When my palms started sweating, Jovie nuzzled my neck and patted my face -- Lily smiled at me from across the room. Both girls made the small weird noises that they like to make when they're in new places among strangers (Lily growls and Jovie sucked her hand -- as demonstrated at right), but they were such little nothing sounds. They were otherwise angels.

And just like that, it was my turn. So I put the day behind me. And I read an excerpt from "The Short Bonnie Life of Donovan MacWallace" (an excerpt because even my short stories are long) complete with ridiculous Scottish accent. 

Here's proof:

Hamming it up while I read.

And people laughed, which was the point. And even seemed to think I did a serviceable Scottish accent. Walking back to my family and friends I felt energized and excited and happy. And not just because of my bomb-ass third place ribbon ...

Hamming it up after I read.
... but also because I felt like I was part of this community of artists and writers. Like I was one of them somehow. Which was kind of surreal for someone who spends her days scraping crusted-on breakfast cereal off the kitchen floor and pretending to be Princess Twilight Sparkle. As I listened to the other amazing, beautiful, hilarious stories and poems, I felt really grateful for the opportunity to share the evening with such talented writers and inspired to continue creating. 

And I don't mean to sound overly sentimental or boastful or anything, but I have to say for my fellow stay-at-home moms and working moms and moms who do both -- it feels really nice to have a win now and then. Even when we don't feel so worthy of it. I'm not going to say that the night will solve the problem of my temper, but I will say it makes me feel less like a tool at my family's disposal. 

On Saturday Brad drove the girls up to his parent's house for the weekend. He thought maybe I could use a couple days to myself. He is very thoughtful, and right, as it turns out.

So for past two and a half days it's just been me, the cats and the dog.

He's really bored.

And my laptop.

And here's where I buried the lead.

Between Saturday and Sunday I wrote around 10,000 words for my novel.

And while it's still an extremely rough first draft.

I think it's finally a finished rough first draft. 

Which means after four years and 128 posts centered largely around writing about how I was never going to finish writing my novel ... I think I finished it.

("Phew," I can hear you say, "At least we won't have to here about that anymore.")

That's all I got, too.


Now excuse me while I go fold the laundry, mow the lawn, make dinner and wait for my family to come home. 

I've missed them.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Couch treasures uncovered and adventures in Equestria

Last week, I had a grab bag of weird silliness I wanted to share -- but after hearing about Robin Williams, I didn't have the heart to share it (even though I imagine he would've condoned weird silliness over morose reminiscing any day). So this week I bring you last week's silliness (well, with some shenanigans from tonight to freshen it up). 

Here we go.

After weeks of squirrel-dundancies, I strolled by the other day and came upon this:

They have palm trees now! The brick pedestals have been transformed into a veritable tropical oasis (I'm actually pretty jealous -- I like to pretend they're spending the afternoon at the Shipwreck Bar on St. Kitts -- drinking something flavored with rum and coconut -- watching the waves and the occasional monkey wander out of the brush. It's a pretty specific daydream.). Now that the squirrel ladies are expanding their little dioramas, the possibilities are endless! Tiki huts! Christmas trees! Snow forts! Miniature school buses!

A couple weeks ago, Lily lost her Princess Elsa MagiClip Doll. I don't know if you've heard of Princess Elsa or the movie in which in between freezing shit, she spends a lot of time as a recluse -- but if you've had any contact with a child over the age of 2 or their parents who start twitching uncontrollably and looking uncomfortably close to homicidal rage every time "Let it Go" comes on (which, by the way, is all the time) I'm guessing you have at least some knowledge of "Frozen." Where was I? Oh yeah, so the doll is missing and it's a pretty big deal. Lily roamed the house tearfully moaning, "Where's Elsa? I can't find her anywhere!" (I pointed out to her that she might have better luck finding her if she were actually attempting to look for her, but my quaint suggestions  seemed lost on her obviously superior (though tortured) 3-year-old brain). 

So I start looking for Elsa in earnest. Digging through the car and under couches and in various toy bins. When I couldn't find her in the usual spots, I took the hunt up a level. Which lead to me not only looking under couch cushions, but also rummaging through the bowels of my sofa -- a marinas trench of treasures unseen by human eyes in millenia.  


Strangely enough, no spare change.

For the record, that's a spoon, two hair clips, half a Sofia the First Princess Amber magnet, a hair tie, a bumble bee stamp, a matryoshka doll, a sea shell, two Sofia the First plastic charms, one Sofia the First Prince James figurine, one static cling Eyore tail, two My Little Ponies, Ohs!, a finger puppet and a giant pile of fur (apologies if you have a weak gag reflex). I ain't proud. 

Note, still no Princess Elsa. She was eventually located mob-style in the trunk of Barbie's VW Beetle. Nobody's talking.

Despite the fact that Lily was not at all concerned about the fact that two of her ponies were missing for months, she took issue with me for how I set one up in her dollhouse tonight: 

Don't judge me.
I have to amuse myself around here somehow …

Poor Harry Pony. (Horsy Potter?)
While Brad and I were eating dinner, Lily marched into the sunroom full of fury  and swatted me on the leg -- "MOM! DON'T DO THAT WITH MY PONIES!!!" She spits at me. Brad was confused -- so I had to explain that I'd been playing with the ponies and the dollhouse, and that Lily might have taken offense to the pony on the potty. 

In my defense, Lily herself had stuffed all three ponies in the closet underneath the doll house steps -- like Harry Potter's equine cousins. How is that any better?

But the saga doesn't end there, because tonight as I was straightening up the living room -- what did I find peeking out a sofa orifice:

Maybe I should stuff some more cereal down there
 so they have something to eat …

These ponies don't stand a chance in this house. 

When we're not losing plastic ponies, stuffing them in the couch or positioning them inappropriately (at least according to Lily) in the dollhouse, we're pretending to be My Little Ponies. Specifically, I'm told that I am Princess Twilight Sparkle, Jovie is Rainbow Dash and Lily gets to be whatever pony she wants (she can apparently morph into different ponies by rolling around on Jovie's bed and snorting). Being Princess Twilight Sparkle is actually a pretty sweet gig, I just lounge on Jovie's bed half asleep and occasionally ask Lily to make me an apple pie (when she's pretending to be Applejack) or to sing me a song (when she's pretending to be Lyra Heartsrings). 

Here's a sample of a song Lily (aka Lyra Heartstrings) sang me recently:

"I want to drum on your heart
I want to eat your tummy 
I want to be your friend."

Think death metal meets Disney power ballad. 

So disturbing, and yet sweet. 

Our games of My Little Pony generally end when, for some inexplicable reason, Lily morphs into "Bad Pony" and proceeds to growl and bite me. Maybe Bad Pony should spend some time in the closet under the stairs.

In between terrible pony impersonations, I've been studying how to talk Scottish by way of "So I Married an Ax Murder," Fat Bastard and "Downton Abbey," in preparation for what will be, no doubt, the height of my literary career: Reading an excerpt from my third-place winning entry to the YorkFest adult literary competition. 

If you're in the York area on Friday night and are looking for something to do (or have been looking for the opportunity to witness my public humiliation) stop by YorkArts, 10 N. Beaver St., at around 7 p.m. You'll also get to hear my friend Joan's excellent non-fiction piece and check out cool art and stuff. 

Maybe you can even get Lily to sing her pony song while you're there -- more likely, she'll just bite your leg. You've been warned.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Growing up with Robin Williams

As I was giving the girls a bath tonight, Brad who was across the hall, looked up from his phone and frowned.

"Robin Williams died," he said.

An apparent suicide. My first reaction was the stock response I take out of storage every time I hear the news of an untimely celebrity passing -- "How sad." But in that distant, several-times-removed from a stranger sort of way.

And then I started thinking about Robin Williams -- thinking about how he intersected with my life -- not ever in person or even tangentially, of course. But the background music to my childhood, it seems.

In elementary school, anytime I was asked who my favorite actor was, my response was Robin Williams. Which isn't all that unusual I suppose. Perhaps a little stranger was when during late-night games of M.A.S.H. as my friends said they wanted to marry the guys from New Kids on the Block (well, not the icky one) or Tom Cruise, I always hoped I'd end up with Robin Williams -- short and hairy though he was. Even back then I knew that all the best relationships -- even the imaginary ones -- are built on laughter.

In fourth grade my mom took my sister and I to see "Aladdin" in the movie theater that summer. A monumental occasion because up until that point I think the only other movies I'd seen in a theater were "An American Tale" and possibly "Beethoven." I got the soundtrack on cassette and memorized all the songs -- attempting to nail each of the accents Williams spits out rapid-fire in "Friend Like Me." When Lily finally saw the movie this year she was either impressed or horrified that all these years later I could sing belt along with the movie, though with only a shred of the energy and enthusiasm Williams has.

Because of my parent's "no TV during the week" rule, my sister Sarah and I would load up on television on the weekends. (We were always so good with moderation.) Because we didn't have cable, we'd end up watching whatever we had on VHS over and over and over again -- "Dr. Dolittle" and "The King and I" were early favorites because of the animals and the beautiful ball gowns. But one of our go-to tapes was "Good Morning Vietnam," with Williams as a radio DJ playing for homesick GIs in Vietnam. Sarah would make macaroni and cheese and we'd have a Pepsi on ice (I can still taste it) and we would lie on the living room floor and watch his frenetic performance. Years later, still awesome.

On my first real date (like boy I like from gym class calls me up and asks me on a date, picks me up in his car and pays for my movie and ice cream date), we went to see "Good Will Hunting." I wore an off-white collared shirt and a brown corduroy skirt (it was much more stylish than it sounds, thanks to my sister Jen insisting I wear the skirt, not the jeans I favored). Williams is darker and low-key, but still so effortlessly funny ("Son of a bitch … he stole my line.")

He was on the screen in "What Dreams Will Come" during that fateful almost-date with my friend Gabe -- the agony of him crying "all suicides go to hell?!" still rings in my ears.

And his voice is often on our television in the morning -- depending on what the girls want to watch that day we'll hear him as the Genie, but also as Ramon/Lovelace in "Happy Feet" and "Happy Feet 2." Despite having watched these movies roughly a gazillion times, I still chuckle every time the pudgy penguin version of him channeling a baptist preacher shouts at a killer whale -- "-- it's a bad day for you … be gone demon fish-ah !"

His death has already been noted on IMDB. These days the end is instant. Well, I suppose it's always been that way -- maybe it's just that it feels that the book is closed faster. The memorials erected before we even have a chance to process the absence. But scrolling through his credits is a rolling diary of my life -- How could I forget about "Toys"? How I wanted to live that weird world of perfect, rolling green hills, robot siblings and fake vomit analysis. How many times did we rent that from the Power Video? 

And "Hook"! "Jumanji"! "The Birdcage" (which I still watch every time I happen upon it on TV). "The Dead Poets Society" -- the one you watch when you're 13 or 14 or 15 and are told that your life doesn't have to be the one your parents or anyone else plotted out for you. It is all yours to create. Carpe Diem. 

On random occasions I still like to shout out "Laila! Get back in that cell! Don't make me get the hose!" from "Mrs. Doubtfire." (I guess you sorta have to see it …)

And for as sweet and endearing as he is in so many roles, he could turn creepy with a vengeance (see "One Hour Photo.") I'm still not sure I want to visit Alaska after "Insomnia."

It's so sad to think that a man who could cause such laughter -- the ones that start deep in your belly and well out of your eyes -- was so tormented that he took his own life. Leaving behind a wife and children -- I don't know that I knew he had either. But then I never really knew Robin Williams beyond those twinkling blue eyes and all those borrowed voices. 

At the turning point in "Good Will Hunting," Will reveals the abuse he suffered under his foster father. Williams, as Will's therapist Sean breaks through Will's wall by uttering the same phrase over and over and over, "It's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's not your fault." 

I remember watching that scene and connecting -- not with Will's abuse or other struggles -- but with wanting that forgiveness, that release from all of that bad business in my head.

We all carry the weight of our faults through life and for many of us they become the thing that we feel defines us. That is the mirror the rest of the world sees in us. 

Maybe Williams had his own Sean who tried to unearth the root of his depression. Maybe he didn't. I cannot believe that a man who brought us so much joy, who offered us a reprieve from the weight of being has not found his own peace today. It's his poor family that now faces that terrible journey.

RIP Robin. You will be missed.