And a Happy New Year!

This will likely end my holiday inspired, soul searching round of posting. The end of the year, the holiday season, family gatherings yield a lot of food for thought in that department. My holidays have been a bit of a mixed bag. The glow of Christmas lights and the ringing of caroling voices was eclipsed by the grumble of old wounds being opened and losses being counted.

We have returned to NYC, a little worn and weary, also thankful and glad. As I said, it’s a mixed bag. So, in the spirit of beginning the year with a positive attitude, I am going to tell you why you should not make a New Years Resolution this year, but go a step further.

Resolve has a plethora of definitions in the dictionary. It’s got three main headers, with sub-definitions branching off. Here is the gist, though:

Resolve: settle or find a solution to (a problem, dispute, or contentious matter); (a symptom or condition) to disperse, subside, or heal; decide firmly on a course of action.

It’s a pretty serious word. It stands to reason then, when resolving to do anything (which of course is where we get the term New Years Resolution), you best not be playing around with it. Statistic Brain says about 45% of Americans make New Years Resolutions each December 31st. Of those 45%, only 8% stick with the resolution for any amount of time. That’s fairly lame. There are also statistics for those who infrequently make resolutions, meaning not every year. I fall into that category.

It’s not a matter of being unable to think of something to improve. I will be the first to say that I can improve in almost every area of my life. If you can’t use a little tweak all around, you’re probably seriously deluding yourself. Most of us are lacking. Even supermodels are wanting somewhere. Even billionaires suck somehow. This is how balance is maintained in the universe. It’s also the only way we haven’t digressed into the talent crippling society featured in the Kurt Vonnegut Jr. short Harrison Bergeron.

To get back to what I was saying…I just don’t like to set myself up for failure. This actually is an area I could improve on. I won’t even play a board game if I think I’m going to lose. (I know, I am still considering therapy.) But making New Years Resolutions is just a bad idea. Even if you like to fail, even if your inadequacy gives you the warm-fuzzies. NYR’s aren’t touching the reason you’ve gained weight this year, or you can’t stop buying Hobbit merchandice from Gandolf1965 on Ebay.

And this is why you shouldn’t do it. Look at your cottage cheese thighs and your compulsion to drink in the afternoon, and say, “No, this year I will not be duped by you.” I just ate an entire package of roasted seaweed and drank a glass of wine. Judge not, lest ye be judged.

Do not give in to the first brainless (and likely true) thing you stumble on. Do not be distracted by the easiest or most obvious issue. If you are overweight, yes, you should probably lose those extra pounds this year. If heart disease runs in your family, probably centering your diet around heart healthy foods would be a good plan. If you have mounds of credit card debt, maybe cutting back on the online shopping is a step in the right direction. (And no one needs that many Bilbo figurines. Not even Peter Jackson.)

Those are all things you should be doing anyway, new year or not. What I’m talking about is resolving. Finding a solution for a problem. Healing a suffering. Deciding on a course to take and taking it. To resolve is to buckle down and do some dirty work, and when the work is done, you come out on the other side different.

Instead of resolving to lose weight (and then not), or to exercise everyday (which will last until the weekend), or to “enjoy life to the fullest” (which is bullshit and subjective), resolve instead.  Before you make resolutions for improvement, resolve to find why you must improve. Examine the truth of who you are, where you are in life, and and how satisfied you are with that assessment. Then resolve to do something about it. I suggest doing the soul searching without any help from booze, and without stepping on the scale first. Self-loathing and a migraine will not help. Otherwise, this may become you:

I am only trying to help. I say this all with love. Enjoy the rest of 2012! Endure 2013 with resolve.

Wilber

Wilbur  May 2003-December 2012

Wilber
May 2003-December 2012

“The death of a beloved is an amputation.”

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

We never expect death, no matter the form it takes, therefore we are never really prepared for it. You might think, as I might too most days, that we should expect death. Death is the end which we all will meet, one day, in one manner or another. We should always expect it, right? It is always out there.

I’m not being morbid.

When I met Wilber, the dog featured in the photo above, we were equally lost and unloveable. He was the runt of an unwanted litter, the least of the least. He was free. He was exactly what I needed. God uses many things in life to help teach us about His love. Or the love we should exhibit for each other. Wilber taught me about acceptance.

Wilber taught almost everyone who knew him that lesson. He was a flawed creature, intimidating and frightening at times, gentle and silly at others. He was unpredictable, and yet, easily read.

Wilber was a dog.

And now, Wilber is gone. That Wilber lived as long as he did is a miracle in itself. As loving as he was to me, and to those who were family, he was also an animal filled with violence. He had bitten and he had scared people. And this part of him, the part that was so dangerous, was just as much a part of him as the gentle, frightened heart we cherished.

His imperfection reminded us that being imperfect is a sign you are living. Toward the end of Wilber’s life he had mellowed. He had endeared himself to those who would otherwise be fearful of him, and he had remained a significant pillar in the building of our family. He had a good life, as good any dog ever did. Then he had a sudden death, but one you could say had been chasing him all along.

We buried him behind the house he spent his last months in. I was there with three of my brothers, my husband and son, a longtime family friend with a special affinity for the black mutt, and my mom and dad. Wilber had lived most of his life in my parents home, and even though I had found him, he wasn’t mine. He was all of ours. So in the chill, on ground frozen still lingering white, we all said goodbye.

He will be sorely missed.

I don’t usually like to write like this. To encourage mindfulness, or to talk of finding greater meaning in the otherwise meaningless. I usually like to avoid putting things out there like this. But this holiday season, too much has happened not to make a statement about it. Not to employ you to hold close those one’s who are dear, or to examine the value in all that you touch.

“So, be careful then how you live, not as unwise, but as wise making the most of every opportunity for the days are evil. Do not be foolish.”

Eph. 5:15

heart

All I Want for Christmas, Part Two: To Believe

santa
I was not raised to believe in Santa Clause. My parents didn’t want to perpetuate a tale I would only one day discover to be false. As Christians, there was the concern that if I believed in Santa because they told me he was real and I found out they lied, what would I think about God. The logic is pretty sound, even if ultimately believing in God comes down to more than what your parents say.

My husband wasn’t raised to believe in Santa either. I don’t think his parent’s reasoning was a defined, I just think my husband and his siblings weren’t that interested.

Even though I didn’t believe in Santa as a real person, jolly in the North Pole with a gaggle of elves and flying reindeer, I loved Christmas. It didn’t hinder the mystery or inhibit my imagination in any way. I was, as you can probably deduct, a head-in-the-clouds type already. I didn’t need any help in that department. I loved Santa Movies. I loved my parents. Getting a present from them was more valuable than getting one from an imaginary fat man. (My dad has been silver-headed and heavy set as long as I remember.) I loved the manger story. I loved Christmas trees and Rudolph movies.

Sure, there was always the compulsion to tell an unwitting friend who did believe that it was a crock. In fact, when I was eight years old, I remember conspiring with a Jehovah’s Witness friend at school (who was slightly bitter about not getting to celebrate or believe herself) to break the news to our doe-eyed comrade that her parents were scamming her. I also waged a campaign that year for my Jehovah’s Witness friend to have a birthday party. I had a finite sense of justice. Not right and wrong — as is made clear by the fact that I did end up souring Santa for my naive friend — but justice. I also spent a lot of my time in trouble that year, and most years to follow.

This is a roundabout way for me to tell you my husband and I had decided not to do Santa with Sam. It wasn’t even a consideration in my mind. Up until this Christmas, it wasn’t a consideration in Sam’s mind either. But things change.

As you know, Sam is obsessed with Superheroes. My family is kind of hardwired for fantasy, so Sam’s existence in the Marvel Universe (or DC) is not shocking. He is drawn to the imaginary, the fantastical, the beyond-our-own-reality. Which is why, when his cousin told him Santa was real, Sam believed.

Much to my chagrin.

When he told me that Santa was coming on Christmas Eve and bringing him a Flash costume (The DC Comics Superhero) I was irked, but trapped. I couldn’t tell him no. I couldn’t sit a three year old down and say, “Sorry, honey, Santa isn’t going to bring you a Flash costume, because Santa isn’t real.” I’d rather not think about the psychological damage, or the fit, they would ensue.

Nor do I see the point in it. He has chosen to believe. Isn’t that what we want our children to do? We want them to make choices about their faith, or how they exhibit their faith, and it’s not up to us how that plays out. One day, he’ll learn Santa is a myth. (At which point I will direct him to his cousin to place blame.) Right now, his belief is a joy to him. It’s an expression of his willingness to accept the magic in the world, whether that magic is real or imagined.

I have chosen to believe many things in life, some with tangible proof, and some merely because I want to. Choosing to believe is a lifelong dance. I value these simple choices for Sam, these choices made by easy faith, and I revel that he is learning the tools to make greater choices one day.

Santa may not be real. Santa may not be my first choice. But it was his. And the Flash costume we ordered from Amazon that came in the mail yesterday will have a special note from Santa, written in handwriting oddly similar to Mom.

All I Want for Christmas, Part One: Planted Feet and Palms Pressed Together

poinsettia
This is the second Christmas in a row we’ve spent in Texas, when we actually live in New York. This is our second Christmas setting up a tree at a house that isn’t ours. Hanging stockings on a mantel above a hearth that’s not our home. This is the second year of feeling transplanted, up rooted, and disjointed at the Holiday season.

It’s our sons third year of life. His fourth Christmas. My son doesn’t remember the first Christmas he was on earth. He doesn’t remember the snow, or our little house with the white fireplace and the tinsel strung throughout. He can’t remember that for his second Christmas I didn’t want to set up a tree, so I bought a little silver one already twined with lights and plugged it in. He doesn’t know that last year, I hated Christmas. I had no spirit for it. Right now, my son sees a mom determined to be jolly. I’m the mom who took him to the shed behind her uncles house in the darkness, the light from Sam’s flashlight illuminating the path, to haul in a box of Christmas decorations she’d packed away when we moved. He watched me arrange tinsel strung garland across the mantel of a house that isn’t mine. He helped me hang ornaments, some deeply sentimental, in the glow of a lighted tree I didn’t pick out from the store.

We are living a divided life. Our family in Texas, our work in New York. We fly back and forth in airplanes as if we were driving across town in a car. Setting up a tree for Christmas, hanging a stocking, lighting a Hanukkah candle, these things become more important when your life is so confusing.

The Mayans may have been wrong about the world ending today, but it is not wrong to live as if it still could. Because it still could everyday. Mayan foolishness aside, our individual worlds, and the world as a whole, is not guaranteed tomorrow. Life is a complicated game we play, it’s a battlefield you can strategize but never fully control. I played the game of RISK once when I was babysitting a friends son. He was a master strategist at six years old. When we were setting up our campaigns, he explained I had gotten lucky. I got continents that work easily together. My battlefront would be more united because I wasn’t operating from a disadvantage created by previous misunderstanding or skirmish.

This was a pretty layered examination of the RISK world, six year old or not, and something I still think about many years later.

We are in a strange time. A time where we lose things and where we find new things. A time where we hold close those we love, and where we have to be willing to hand them off as well. The Holidays tend to make reflection difficult. It’s more common to be caught up, to be hustled and bustled into a credit card meltdown or a gift giving coma, but a gentle easing on of glasses over eyes for examination may be the prescription for the ailment of this peculiar season.

On Tuesday I took my son shopping in Denton. We went to the Square, which is filled with locally owned shops stocked with simple and personal presents. My son was wide eyed as we walked through the stores. He was picking out gifts for cousins and grandmas and Daddy. And I let him. And it was amazing to observe his choices. With every gift we bought, he reminded me why it mattered to buy in the first place. Why, when life is a hodgepodge of wonder and ruin, we keep walking on, holding hands, connected even as the world falls apart.

I won’t pretend to understand anything, or to always do good, or to always have faith. I won’t lie to you, many days I fall short. I just know that from the mouth of babes wisdom flows, and I believe, wisdom changes us. Division, bitterness, resentment will make you lose the battle. Link hands this Christmas. Pray together. Dance together. Play Patty Cake together. Whatever. Even if tomorrow you want to create a fist. Tomorrow may surprise you still.
sam hand

Road Trip Wednesday: #161 What’s in a name?

rtwRoad Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. We ,the bloggers who love YA Highway, post our response and then link it in the comments of the YA Highway site. Pretty fun!

 This Weeks Topic: The list of top baby names in 2012 had us talking about naming characters. How do you decide on names? Would you ever name a character after a friend/family member/ex?

I have always loved the meaning of names. Not because my name has the most awesome meaning. Rebekah means, almost everywhere you look, “to bind“, although the link I’ve included does try to improve the connotation a little bit. I’ve accepted this over the years. When I was pregnant with my son, there was never another name option other than Samuel. Samuel means “God heard”. He did hear when he gave me Sam, so it fits.

Naming characters in my writing is a different process, for me. The name of a character isn’t always a choice, or something I plot out. I tend to get a name stuck in my head in the early incarnation of the idea, and getting it unstuck is nearly impossible later on.

As the character develops, the name begins to feel like a part of their identity. Sometimes the name meaning turns out to be  ordained, connected to who that character is or what they represent in the story. I love when this happens organically. I also love when I begin to understand the character more because of their name. When you meet people in life, they introduce themselves to you with a handshake. You see shades of who they are, you know pieces of what their life has been, and you know their name. Over time, you get to know a person better and their name becomes synonymous with who they are to you. My relationship with my characters is very much this way.

In the case of my novel, some of my characters names are not actual names at all. This is always a fun thing to have happen because it feels like you’ve discovered something no one else could, and you’ve gone to a place truly separate from the framework of your own world.

There are different kinds of writers out there, this is true of every art form. I’m the kind who doesn’t plan much, at least not in the first draft. I don’t always know who a character is, or is going to become. I don’t always expect the character to turn out the way they do. I think this makes my discovery of the movements in my work a lot more exciting for me. It also means I have to do a lot of  revisions. That’s fine, I’ve accepted this is my writing personality and it will never change. Just like I’ve accepted I don’t really have any power over how my characters are named.

Road Trip Wednesday: #160

rtw
Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway’s contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. We ,the bloggers who love YA Highway, post our response and then link it in the comments of the YA Highway site. Pretty fun!

This Weeks Topic: About how many books do you read in a year? Do you want to read more? Or, less?

I find the answering of this question a little maddening. In years past I read…some. Some is to say, I made time for reading when I stumbled across a good book. I didn’t seek out books so much as occasionally find them. In fact, I relied largely on friends recommendations and I didn’t ask friends for many recommendations.

Then I started reading young adult. I can read adult literature, don’t get me wrong, and occasionally I still do. (Like when a friend wants to have a book discussion at a fancy restaurant with cocktails.) But now that I’m reading YA, I read as much as my life allows. I read in the morning. I read in the bathroom. I read on the train. I read with coffee, and wine, and nap time.

This brings up another reason I have read more this year than any year before. Writing. When you are writing, you read more. Or, at least, I do. It encourages you to hone your craft. It fills you with confidence and understanding. It also makes you hungry for the art form you’ve chosen to express yourself in. Writing YA just means I have an excuse to read more YA.

I tell people it’s for my job.

So, not every year, but this year I have so far read 30 books. Could that number be improved? Absolutely! I hope it keeps on climbing. There is so much out there to read, so much of quality, and interest, and relevance. So much, in fact, for anyone to ever complain they are bored, or have nothing to read, or have nothing to do, is just laziness.

FYI if you follow this blog, you may think I’ve been complaining of boredom. That is not the case. I’ve been complaining of missing my son. There is always something to read, but in life you must have variety. Once I’ve written for six hours, and read for a few more, my eyes start to ache and I have to find something else to do. When my son is around, this is not a problem.

donnie darko

I’ve read 30 books this year, and next year, I hope to read more.

I finally watched The Walking Dead.

My husband and I have resisted The Walking Dead phenomenon until now. My reasons are threefold:

  1. I get scared, fairly easily, and reanimated human flesh doesn’t help.
  2. I have no time to get caught up on a television show in its third season.
  3. I know I will love it and therefore obsess over the finer and more gruesome points until I myself resemble a Walker.

So, as I said on Friday in this post, my son is in Texas for the week. I don’t know what I did before Sam was born, but I sure as hell don’t remember having this much time on my hands. Yes, I’m editing my manuscript (again, and hopefully for the last time until selling it!). Yes, I got Jillian Michael’s 30-day Shred DVD and used it today. (At one point there were noticeable tears.) Yes, I cleaned the stove, and walked the dog, and took a relaxing bubble bath.

Now what?

We watch The Walking Dead, of course.

Here is a poorly recalled transcript of Nathan and I watching the pilot:

Opening scene-

Rick walks around with a gas can, gun secured stupidly in his pocket. My husband gave him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the poor bastard didn’t know about the Zombie Apocalypse. The sad sack.

Husband: It’s not like you walk around expecting an undead to wander up beside you in house shoes.

Me: Clearly some mischief is afoot — ALL THE CARS ARE ABANDONED!

The little girl with the bear and the missing jaw approaches.

Me: Shoot her. Either way, this does not bode well.

Scene Where Rick Wanders Around Town-

My notes on this: Shoes. He goes home, but he doesn’t get dressed. No shoes+ no pants= very vulnerable situation.

Husband: He’s in a fairly distressed state of mind.

Me: Still, survival instincts. Where is he gonna go without footwear?

Husband: He’s messed up. He was shot and woke up to a loading dock of mutilated corpses.

Me: Who probably still have some loafers he could borrow.

Scene At the Police Station-

They raid the armory. I would have gathered, in no particular order, the following:

  • Rifle
  • Machete, multiple
  • Flame Thrower
  • Grenades (for large scale attacks)
  • Sawed off shotgun
  • Hand gun (for when I know the end is nigh)

Note: Stop shooting people. The black dude said it calls them.

Scene When the Black Dude (whose name has escaped me) Does Target Practice-

Husband: I thought he said not to shoot. He really beat himself up about that, what’s he doing?

Me: Working out his aggression.

Husband: This is a bad idea.

Me: He’s looking for his wife.

Husband: Maybe he wants to move on.

Me: Oh, there she is. (Aside) If the Zombie Apocalypse comes, and I get bitten, you better shoot me in the freaking head. That is no way to live. (To the black dude) Shoot her, her brain is fried. She’s eating human flesh.

Husband: But what if they find a cure?

(Cute!)

Atlanta-

Rick, very stupidly, rides a horse down an empty road toward the city.

Me: All the cars are leaving the city.

Husband: No traffic at least.

Me: If he gets that horse killed…

Husband: That’s an empty threat.

(Action ensues, the nature of which I will not spoil.)

Husband: They’re moving kind of fast.

Me: I guess these are The Skipping Dead.

(Something really crappy happens.)

Me: I do not feel bad for him right now, this is of his own making.

Husband: I feel bad.

(Eye roll.)

Me: That dude is not dead, just shoot him for good measure.

(A gross scene follows.)

Me: That horse was grazing in a pasture, and now look at him.

After the episode-

Husband: What do you suppose the pop culture fascination with Zombies is?

Me: It’s Natural Selection on undead juju.

Husband: There are zombie viruses in nature.

Me: Stop.

Husband: Yeah, these parasites take over this specific breed of ant’s brains. It’s crazy.

Me: I’m never going to get to sleep tonight. (Long Pause) Lets watch another one.

(End Transcript)

That sick feeling is normal.

This morning my son traipsed off in a taxi toward LaGuardia Airport with a handful of my family. He’ll be in Texas for a week, at which point my husband and I will follow to spend the holidays. I wasn’t hesitant in the least about allowing him to stay with family. It was his idea. Even with a cold this week he was still game for the journey. The night before he was supposed to fly arrived, and with it my own hidden anxiety surfaced. It began with him, very normally, saying he didn’t really want to go. Why?, my husband asked. Because I don’t want to be away from Mommy. 

Crack! The sound of my rapidly breaking shell of composure.

We talked for a bit about his feelings, my loving feelings toward him, and ultimately, the fact he wouldn’t feel that way once the opportunity had passed. I explained why I wasn’t going (I have engagements this week in the City). He understood, and then, just like that, he was over his reluctance with a kiss.

My composure lay in pieces on the ground he walked on with his cousin.

I spent the better part of Thursday evening pretending I was fine. We had dinner, started gathering his stuff, played, watched Spiderman. By the time I was laying him down for bed we were all tired. He passed out in my arms, and I proceeded to cry. I cried for about fifteen minutes. This morning when he happily left — still a little under the weather, but in good spirits — I cried again.

This is not my first time away from Sam. Before we moved, Nathan and I came to New York twice on our own. Once was for almost five days. I’ve spent nights away from him. I’ve had a few days in New York away from him. This is not our first major separation, but it is our first initiated by him. It’s first time he chose to go.

When I threw myself into drafting my manuscript last October, writing became a huge presence in my life. Sometimes an even bigger presence than Sam. I’m not apologizing for this, but want you to understand something from it. For anything to fill my mind more than Sam means that something has to be of incredible value to me. Sam has been the mark by which all things are judged since he was born. Should I do this? I think of Sam. Is this best? I think of Sam. He is the excuse and reason for a lot of my decisions.

Writing is important to me, sometimes so important it feels most important. But it’s not. I write this blog post now because my heart is being wrenched away and carried to Texas. I write in general because nothing will ever be as important as Sam, but there must be more to me than him. He just got on a plane to Texas without me at three years old. Someday, it may be a plane to another country, or to college away from home, or a spaceship to the moon. I savor him now, this time so short and sweet, but I follow my own path too.

As mothers, we find a lot of fault within ourselves for the pursuit our own desires. Or, for the pursuit of any desire that doesn’t directly benefit our children. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way and I don’t think it’s easy to admit. I think we all sense it within ourselves when we make a choice that looks selfish, or one for our career, or one to feed another part of us other than mom. It’s a tightening in our chests, or a sick spreading through our stomachs. It wells up like a geyser, or festers like a wound. It is essential to the art of motherhood, just as it is essential to every other art form. We must feel it all in order to produce anything of value.

I intend to produce a child and a novel (many!) I’m proud of.

There is no happiness when in pursuit of something worth pursuing, only the joy of the journey, the heartache of the pilgrimage, and the belief that it will be worth it. Even if we have to steel ourselves as our baby says goodbye with a smile. Even if we cry the moment we shut the door. Even if we enjoy the time apart a little too.