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Wednesday, June 29, 2016
As the 4th of July approaches, I take advantage of the season by listening to one of my most beloved songs: "America the Beautiful" by Ray Charles. I put that sucker on repeat and jam the frick out. It's my all time favorite, baby.
In case you don’t know this version, or it’s been a while since Ray's velvet notes hit your eardrums, let me refresh your memory…
Oh Beautiful, for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self, our coutnry loved,
And mercy more than life,
America, America, may God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
and every gain devined.
This gets me thinking…
I want to love America right now. With everything in me, I want to be proud of our nation and its people and my neighborhood and my state and my brotherhoods/sisterhoods and my heroes.
I want to love America right now. With everything in me, I want to be proud of our nation and its people and my neighborhood and my state and my brotherhoods/sisterhoods and my heroes.
I want to be proud. So, you know what?...
Dammit, I’m going to be proud.
You feel it, too, right? It starts with the smell of grilled hot dogs and the sound of fireworks, and moves into the cockles of your heart with the memory of people who've died for our freedom...
It’s okay to be patriotic right now, even if you’re mad at the way our country is handling things. I'm mad, too. Since the dawn of our country, people have been fighting over how to handle things. Sometimes the solution is comforting, other times it pisses us right the hell off. The important questions is...
How are you handing things?
It’s okay to be patriotic even if you’re scared about what’s happening to our great nation. I'm scared. Things are crazy and crappy and everything seems haphazard and confusing. I never thought I'd see the day when our country would fall so hard on so many levels, but that isn't what's important. The important question is...
What are you doing to lessen the fear?
It’s okay to be patriotic when there’s so much hate. Hate is everywhere. It's on social media, it's in the comment section, it's screamed at Americans and immigrants alike at car washes and restaurants and in the subway. Hate has never not been a part of our country, but it feels like it's magnified more than ever. This world is not heaven, and so hate will continue. The important question is...
How are you loving others?
It’s okay to be patriotic when you’re embarrassed by the policies and people in the limelight. I wouldn't do things the same way that our leaders are doing them. I would handle things differently. So would you. It's mortifying sometimes to be represented by people who seem like they're charting our course like they're playing "Pin the Tail on The Freaking Donkey." Sure, I can make my voice heard, I can vote, I can yell. But that's not enough. We have to see this on a local level. We need to react to those we can literally reach out and touch. If we all do this--from coast-to-coast--this country will be better. The important question is...
What are you doing to make America great?
It’s okay to be patriotic, because our country is not our policies, the news, or certain ideals. Our country is not hatred. Our country is not fear.
Our country is its people.
Stand up for our people. Respect our people. Love our people.
Don’t give up.
Thursday, March 24, 2016
It’s a week until I meet you. Ten days. Give or take.
Like your sisters, you’re going to be a surprise to see. Your hair, your cheeks, the bridge of your nose, your size (especially since you’ve been hiding from me in all those ultrasounds). You’ll be so many things I can’t control, but you’ll be perfect. You’ll keep us up most nights for a while, but we’ll live and you'll be worth it. I might pour orange juice in my coffee in the morning. I might let the house fall apart, but we’ll find a way. Give or take.
Son, you’ll stumble a lot. You’re going to cry the first time you try to support yourself on your tummy and land on your nose. Then I’ll cry because I will always feel your pains. But you won’t be stopped. You’ll lift that chin high and learn to crawl, and then to walk, and then to run. And you’ll run, Son. You’re going to run far and fast. Sometimes too far and fast. We’ll learn to reign it in together. Give or take.
You’ll grow into a blend of lessons developed and innate personalities traits. You’ll be you and me and your dad and the influence of others, all wrapped up in one. I promise to help guide you down the right paths and teach you to be kind (even when you don’t want to be) and helpful (even when you don’t want to be), and help you recognize when your temper is justified and when it’s time to breathe. Much of you will rely on how you are raised, but even more will rely on who you choose to be. So, I pray you will choose to be good where you find need to be good, and stand up for people and have a heart of gold. You won’t always make great decisions, but that’s what I’m here for. We’ll make the right choices together. Give or take.
And that’s what life is, Son. Life is a circle of give and take. So I pray you will give generously and take advantage of all of life’s joys. I pray that when things get tough, you will give it everything you’ve got and take every opportunity to be a blessing. I pray that you will give love even when it doesn’t seem to be earned and take the time to open yourself to others.
It’s not always going to be fair. It’s not always going to be easy. But, we’ll make it through life together. Give or take.
I love you, Son.
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
It was the middle of a steamy Texas summer, the AC was panting along like a loyal family dog, and our apartment was finally clear of back-to-back guests.
“It’s time,” my husband said to the receptionist on the phone. Though his words were as cool as the ice cream I was spooning into my mouth, there was panic in his eyes. With the corporate rug pulled out from under our financial legs, we figured that vasectomy we’d been putting off for months ought to be scheduled before our insurance ran out. Who can blame a guy for not leaping in line to get iodined and sliced down there?
Two days later—experiencing all the tired, aching, nauseated, late feelings one gets—I held a positive pregnancy test. Apparently, having a solid month of company didn’t dissuade us from being in the mood.
I’ll be honest, when I saw those 2 pink lines, I said some swear words. I was knee-deep into a fabulous love affair with my evening summer cocktail, was this close to being done with diapers forever (so I thought), and was holding out hope of making it to the gut-curdling drop of Disney’s Tower of Terror before year’s end, despite our recent loss of income. What can I say? I was going through a selfish phase.
With each passing day of straddling the toilet yet craving nothing but burritos (literally, ask anyone, I ate so many burritos), I slowly crept out of denial. I bypassed the crappy first trimester and found out I was going to give my husband a son. I coolly eased into those magic-middle-months where I had a cute belly bump and basked in the assurance that I wouldn’t have to push said baby out for several months. It was glorious. My coworkers wouldn’t let me do any physical labor, I no longer looked like I just ate too many burritos, and the speculation of names and who the little miracle would look like commenced.
Until someone asked me when my “twins” were due.
Let’s be honest. Answering a stranger’s questions about my body is fun the first dozen times. And, by fun, I mean tolerable.
By now, in the 8th month, I might as well wear a bloody shirt.
(You guys have no idea how much I wanted to say, “Yeah. I know what ‘causes this.’ The same thing that causes herpes!” just so his shock at the intimacy of our two-second conversation would match my own.)
Instead of growing bitter (who me?) with the repetitive questions about my body that strangers have no business asking, I figured I’d publically air some of my own observations. Here are some answers… in case you were tempted to ask.
#1- Yes. I wish I could make a dent into a bottle of wine. My love of the grape stuff hasn't gone away after 8 months. I’ve been tempted to buy full bottles just so I can have a sip, but the judgmental looks of store clerks are a total buzz kill.
#1A- Yes. I’m counting down the days. Yes I have a cocktail recipe ready to go. I’m about to have THREE kids. It’s how I get through that 11th hour of the day. Wanna fight about it?
#2- No, Random Lady who walked in on me flossing in the restroom of Applebees, I’m not an extra on the Walking Dead. Pregnancy = bleeding gums. It also equals tooth decay, so Imma keep doing this regardless of that look you’re giving me.
#3- Yup. Having a boy means there’s a wee little winkie in me at all times. Good observation. And no, unless I ask you directly for an opinion, his circumcision-or-lack-thereof is nunya business.
#4- Nope. Wasn’t planned. We’ve established this. BUT! Why is that a question I began hearing after 2 kids? Just because I didn’t plan it doesn’t mean anyone with more than 2 is a poor planner. Your ideal number might be 2 (mine once was), but that doesn’t mean others don’t plan to have 5 or 8 or 13. I mean, did you plan that extra 40lbs you’re carrying around? That’s none of my business? Imagine that.
#5- Yes, that means we got rid of 99% of our baby stuff years ago. Please don’t remind me how expensive it is unless you plan to chip in. Cuz yeah, people stop throwing you baby showers after said 2nd “appropriately desired” child. (This is NOT a hint for anyone I personally know to run to Target for me. We’ve almost got it covered by now, but thanks!)
#6- Yes, I will have my hands full. Most people with kids do, regardless of the number. That’s why I became a mother, because I wanted full hands and a full heart. A gynecologist doesn’t complain (out loud) about being paged into delivery at 3am—it’s what they signed up for. The literary agent doesn’t roll their eyes when a requested manuscript falls in their inbox—they requested it because they love reading and see promise, despite the long hours and pile that won't go down.
I’m the type of person who chronically devotes myself to too many commitments. What’s better than devoting myself to another HUMAN BEING? Not much in this world is greater than that. But, if I’m about to drop an armful of groceries while my girls cry in the cart and my body tenses in a Braxton Hicks contraction, by all means, help me out. Don’t just tell me my hands are full.
#10- Absolutely not, are you nuts?!
(I’ll let you play jeopardy and come up with your own questions for those last answers. Whatever makes you more comfortable about my body and leaves you feeling like we’re all on the same page here. Go ahead. Whatever you want. I won’t judge.)
Bottom line, if you don’t know at least one interesting fact about me (meaning if you aren’t a friend, family member, or at least a comfortable acquaintance), first ask yourself if your question is necessary. Most of the time, I don’t mind answering the basics to fill your need for small talk. I get it. But, don’t be rude, vulgar, invasive, or “funny.”
I’m done with that.
P.S. To the one (ONE!) stranger at my girl’s gymnastics studio who only asked me how I was feeling and if there was anything I needed help with…bless you. Bless your life. Bless your kid’s lives and their kid’s lives. May riches rain on you forever because you’re a beautiful soul and I wish I could kiss your face.
Monday, February 8, 2016
Why I Can’t Take a Day Off
(This may seem hypocritical coming from someone who hasn’t updated her blog in over a month, but bear with me.)
If you’re a mom, you’ve probably heard it said, “Moms don’t get sick days,” or “Moms aren’t allowed weekends,” or my personal favorite, “Moms can’t take a day off.”
That’s so not true.
Okay, in a way it is. There are certain things a mom has to do to keep everyone, like, alive. Or happy. And if you live in a house like mine, it might as well be the apocalypse when everyone is unhappy. These beautiful little effers are demanding. Food, milk, diapers/butts wiped, teeth brushed, naps and bedtime. You know the drill of necessities.
But trust me, I can get away with doing very, very little on the mom scale on occasion. Will the dishes tower above the sink line? Sure. Will laundry become a fire hazard? Yeah. Will dog food be experimentally consumed? Rarely.
In the last five years of motherhood, I’ve prided myself in balancing work, personal goals, my marriage, and my family in above-amateur status (I’m striving for Olympic level…and don’t tell me there isn’t an Olympics for this thing, I see judges EVERYWHERE). But I proved my theory of just how little I could do as a mom a few weeks ago when I was weakened by the stomach flu and confined to the floor with little to comfort me except Mitch Album made-for-tv-movies and my blessed little angels.
(If you’re a Golden Girls fan, read the first sentence in Sofia Petrillo’s voice…)
Picture it: 2016, Austin, Texas. My husband just loaded up our moving truck with all of our earthly belongings—minus a few necessities such as blankets, clothes, and that closet in the bathroom I had yet to confine to cardboard—and hopped a plane for a weekend of job training, leaving his pregnant wife, two young daughters, and stressed out dog to embark on a cross-country move without him.
Don’t feel bad for me. I gave him my blessing to go (even if he didn’t need it), and my dear dad—whose offer to take a week off to help with the journey made him appear like a glorious hybrid of Sir Lancelot and Captain America—was due to arrive the next day.
(Unfortunately, due to an outdated policy by Delta, which should have been amended in the 1960s, my well-intentioned father’s trip was delayed by more than 24 hours. But I’ll spare you the asinine details. After all, it seemed much of my life at this point was a true comedy of errors. I could write a whole post on the hilarity of it, but honestly, I’d just assume forget and move on. Doubt I’ll ever purchase a Delta ticket again, though. Insert hand gesture.)
So, there I was, stomach spasming, a To Do list longer than my ledger of enemies, and a house that needed to be bleached for more than one reason. Instead of accomplishing anything, I ordered eight servings of egg drop soup from Mama Fu’s, curled up on a blowup mattress, turned on the tube (because I obviously hadn’t packed it yet, either), and let my girls wreak havoc.
In reflection (days later, because my brain was preoccupied with the repetitive desire not to puke again), I realized just how little I could do to keep my family alive. Cardboard boxes make great toys, as we know, and it’s apparently super fun as a kid to yell in an empty house with vaulted ceilings because the echoing acoustics are amazing. I didn’t have a headache or anything.
I also understood that I do not want to live my life like I’m perpetually on imaginary bed rest. It was fun for a hot second.
In the days that followed, I made the absolute most of each day. Not because I wanted to—though I did—but out of necessity. By the time we squeaked out of Bat City with a stomach full of last-chance Torchy’s Tacos, I crammed in as much work as humanly possible. Seriously. Not only did I have to finish packing and cleaning for the move alone, take my oldest daughter back to school for a few more days, and care for all the fun, logistical nonsense that accompanies a move, I also had a huge project for my [now previous] employer to repaint every one of the directional signs on the educational campus by hand. Both sides. I also sold numerous items on Craigslist that wouldn’t fit in the truck, handled a new case of hives that sprouted in our house following the stomach flu, jumped through a few hoops to get last-minute medical records for myself, my unborn son, and my kiddos, and even managed to visit a few dear friends and a museum I’d been meaning to view but had never quite got around to.
It was exhilarating. I fed off of the fear that I wouldn’t get it all done, knowing deep down that I would. I created a perpetuating energy within that drove my next move, increasing with each hour until a four pages of tasks was done and my body was exhausted.
There’s nothing special about me or my circumstances. We’ve all been sick. We’ve all surprised ourselves with handling manic days of overwhelming, bell-to-bell madness.
But, here’s what I noticed about the whole episode…
The energy it took to brush my teeth while sick was the same amount exerted to make twenty trips up and down two flights of stairs to load the last of our crap in the car. Granted, I was sick in the first example, but the principle is the same. It’s the whole Newton’s First Law of Motion thing. An object (please don’t comment about how I’m objectifying myself, I know I’m a human) in motion tends to stay in motion. An object at rest tends to stay at rest… UNLESS and external force is applied.
Are you at motion? Am I? If I hadn’t had the external force of a daunting move at my toes, would I have accomplished as much?
Ever notice that when you “take the morning off,” it’s hard to get anything done the rest of the day because the act of getting moving requires so much energy that you might as well wait until tomorrow? I do it all the time, and my task lists grow because of it. I also give myself forty mental lashings every time I fall into that trap, but never seem to learn.
Open any article about habits of successful people, and you’re bound to see at least one of the following:
1- Rise early.
2- Start working early.
3- Get your butt up and moving.
4- Eat your frog (tackle the task you’re dreading the most first).
5- Work now, play later. Or play now, work harder later.
(Okay, that last one is a gem from my dad, but it holds true in terms of relevancy and sound advice.)
In said articles, you will of course also see things like “Recharge” and “Take time for yourself.” That’s a given. But as a glutton for the couch, I have to be proactive by operating on the side of accomplishment, knowing the rest will follow. Otherwise I’m all, “Seven days off in a row is good for me! I need to do absolutely nothing except breathe for as long as it takes for an external force to be applied to get me moving.”
Don’t lie. You’ve been there, too.
But the truth is that when we find what our true purpose is—our greatest passion in life—and work toward it, it is energy giving not energy draining. I wouldn’t advocate for running yourself into the ground and becoming sick from working too much. Being sick sucks a plastic hamster ball.
Know your limits, but if you aren’t stretching past them every once in a while, how will you realize what you can truly do?!
So, what am I going to do now that the chaos of moving, settling in, and starting our lives all over has ebbed? Funny you should ask, I was just making a list:
- Make some revisions to my currently submitted book (I thought I was done, like, five times).
- Decide between editing/rewriting a shelved book that grabbed some agent’s interest a year ago but was beyond my then-current skill level, or finishing my work in progress. It’s still beyond my skill level, but what the hey. Stretch past your limits, right?
- Continue illustrating my picture book.
- Help my husband to grow the small real estate business we just started in addition to his corporate job.
- Push out my third baby (8 weeks and counting) and keep my girls adjusting and growing.
- World domination. I haven’t decided how to accomplish this yet, so I’m going to focus on block domination—which should be easy because I live next to some golden gals—and work my way up to neighborhood. Also golden gals. I’ll rule over my Ensure-drinking minions soon.
In no uncertain terms, I just can’t stop. This object is staying in motion. Even if it gets boring or tedious or difficult or impossibly redundant and heartbreaking. I’ll make mistakes and keep moving. I’ll learn and keep moving. I’ll do better when I know better and keep moving. I don’t want to wait for an external force to catapult me into action. Even if it means letting the dishes occasionally pile above the sink. I’ll keep a firm lid on the dog food, though.
See you soon, world!
Sunday, December 27, 2015
Writing DOES have a secret ingredient. Want to know what it is? Read on to find out. Or cheat by skipping to the bottom, who’s gunna know?
I hope this series on prose has helped you, even in the smallest of ways. If you found one tool to help better your prose, were linked to a website you connected with, or fixed even one sentence in your WIP, I accomplished what I set out to do. And if you haven't read it all, you can read Parts 1-4 by simply locating them on the side bar or scrolling down.
Let’s wrap this up with a brief post on Voice.
A good voice is not easily cultivated. It takes year-after-year of slamming down words, figuring out what works for you, and embracing the evolutionary process that accompanies the craft. Like growing, it’s often painful, can come in spurts, and stretches you beyond your comfort zone. But growth (i.e. constant practice, struggle, and fall-on-your-ever-loving-face mistakes) is the only thing that will take you out of writing infancy and into the full maturity of your carefully voice.
Don’t give up because it gets hard. Often times, your greatest struggle leads to your greatest success. At least, I hope so. For all our sakes.
Here are some tips to help cultivate your “voice.” For more excellent advice, check out the links at the bottom of the page…
- Read. Anyone who has read more than a paragraph of my blog knows that I advocate plentiful and abundant reading. Experiencing the writing voices of accomplished writers helps to groom your own.
- Speak into a recorder. Listen to it.
- Observe your surroundings. Write what you see in the exclusive lens to which you see it.
- Stalk people in public—coffee shops, malls, restaurants, etc.—listen to how they speak to help get the voice of your conversations down. That's right, I said stalk them.
- Use vocabulary true to your characters. If you have a woman from the south, “y’all” and “Bless her heart” can be as much a part of her as any other description you give. Ditto for any part of the world. Do your research and use what you’re comfortable using.
- Read a stack of emails you’ve sent to friends, coworkers, or family members in the past, and mimic the spontaneity. This form of writing is often lively, intimate, and (most importantly) engaging.
- Paint with your words. Use the ones you love (careful not to use the same words too often) and brandish them in ways that are distinctive to you.
- Write about what you value, what makes you sick, what keeps you up at night.
- Above all, write often, daily if possible. Write even if the work will never make it into your blog, your short story, or your manuscript. Back in my tattoo artist days, I would draw and draw and draw. Very few of those ever found permanent homes on skin, but they helped me be a better artist. But, come on, you don't need someone to drill into you the importance of practice. Or, at least, you shouldn't.
Avoid the following…
- Don’t use the wrong voice and tone for the occasion or audience. Have you ever read a genre where the voice didn’t quite fit? I read a middle grade fantasy once that read very similar to a Hemmingway-esque adventure. Needless to say, I didn’t connect well with it. Choosing the correct tone requires tact and ample reading.
- Avoid using the wrong POV, tense, or both.
- Avoid using a phony tone. Why impersonate other authors when you can create your own voice?
So, what’s the “Secret to Writing?" Simple.
Write in your unique voice, write your unique thoughts and opinions, write your unique story. Out of all the six billion voices in the world, no one can write in yours except you. No pressure.
This has been another "'No Post on Sundays' Post"
Sunday, December 13, 2015
“If you hone your craft, carefully and consistently, looking always for ways to improve, your writing will sing as song lyrics and shine like a well-crafted light show,” said the teacher. “Your writing will become art.”
The student stared, unamused. “Duh.”
Once you have the components of a good sentence wrangled into compliance, you should look at the sentences themselves.
We can write a good sentence. We can then write another. We can write another after that. And yet another to follow it.
Or, we can use ever paintbrush in our kit, painting a story with varied brushstrokes and different colors, expanding the universe of the reader with the beauty of words.
Mix 'em up. Sentences should be varied to fit the subject. They can be short, brutal, smart, pithy, lengthy, etc. But, they should never be the same. Think of sentences as people of the world; we are each different, beautiful in our own right. Wouldn't life be mundane if we were all the same, even if we were all "well constructed?"
If you go simple, go deep. It is better to say too little than too much, better to have the reader engaged in his/her own world building than to tire over loquacious expressiveness.
Take one of the most memorable passages from the Bible, in the eleventh chapter of John in the New Testament. These are possibly the most moving words ever written, and they are simple...
Take risks. Consider patterns that best suit your work. Ballet would be brief and boring if the dancers were stuck in first position. Instead, they perform short Brisé volé moves, powerful Jeté entrelacés, ending in a deep, slow Plié. Remember to have variety, energy, and grace to make the performance of your work at it's best.
With a bit of direction on what TO do, please also notice and be aware of what NOT to do. Don't fall privy to one of the following sentence sins…
Sure, purple prose is beautiful. It’s also heavy and slow. Purple prose is to writing what the dancing hippos were to fantasia.
“The moon shone, dripping over the horizon, shoving aside the shadows and creeping into the dripping sap of the bayou with sticky fingers, pushing its beams of illumination into the mansion, revealing a brooding mademoiselle of tears and grief, knife to throat, morals asunder, gaping in frenzied horror at the draining veins of the stout man, screaming madly at him, “You deserve to die, and so do I!”
Who got through that sentence? Something incredible is going on, and the reader can barely see it amongst “mush.” That doozy needs to be tamed, simplified, and split into several sentences.
Similar to the passage above, see how far you can get through this paragraph without stopping or zoning out.
“He sincerely regretted to inform the vehicle’s owner of the unceremonious damage caused as their unmaintained boom performed a faulty function and lowered into the front portion of the right corner bumper of the vehicle. Repairs had been required for some time on this piece of equipment, however, due to the large volume of traffic seen in said parking garage, the mechanical needs had fallen into neglect, hence causing damage and frustration.”
There are a hundred ways to tell this in a more interesting manner without losing the reader.
In summation, your reader expects you to take them on a journey! Design the page in a way that takes the words away and leaves only your glorious story.
This has been another "'No Post on Sundays' Post"