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.

Thumper

I realize I’ve been a little quiet the last week, which is unusual for me. I have been in Texas since last Saturday working on revisions and proofreading the revisions I have finished. It’s been exhausting and exhilarating. Why Texas? I am originally from the Lonestar State, and both sets of grandparents live in our former hometown. It’s a great place to occupy my son while I am pushing through to finish my novel. I am pushing through everything right now. Through my tired eyes. Through my aching shoulder. Through the other things I could be doing, and the missing my New York apartment and my sweet son who is happily engaged with his family.

Mostly, I am pushing through self-doubt. I think this is a normal emotion to struggle with in the face of rewrites, and the finish line. I had it nicely boxed up inside the corner of my mind reserved for those sorts of thoughts (my weight insecurities and parenting shortcomings also live there) until yesterday. Yesterday I had an experience I would rather not elaborate, but only say, I began to fear my own talent, the positive feedback I’d received from multiple sources, and the truth that I really, really believe this book is worth publishing.

The reason I will not elaborate is I refuse to be one of those people who wears their heart on their sleeve. I refuse to express my anger and frustration at an individual person in a blog that can be read by anyone. I think someone should put this person in line, but I will not be the girl to do it.

I will, however, be the girl to tell you that you can never allow one asshole’s opinion to affect you for more than a glass of wine and a good cry. I do think you should have that glass of wine and good cry, that is super healthy and smart. But after that, and I mean right after, get your ass up and keep moving. Remember what you know to be true. Remember that you can never please everyone. When I was a kid, my mom used to tell me — with her hands on my shoulders: “If everyone likes what you’re doing then you’re doing something wrong.” She was also the one to encourage me to remember what Thumper’s mother said: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I am still reminding myself of this today.

I am remembering it as I tell you to forget critics and remember only true critique. I am remembering it as I curse those who think they know more than Jesus, and may know a lot, but who can still be blind and foolish enough to make asinine statements in an offhand way. Those people are invited to bite me. I do realize that was not something nice to say and have chosen to say it anyway.

I think you have to find kindreds in your life and remember not everyone will be one. Not everyone is super creative or good at knowing their own mind. Some must be told what they like. Those are the ones who followed the popular girls around school and who now ride the coattails of someone else’s brilliance. There is need for those kind of people in life. I will readily admit that. I will also readily admit that I really, really don’t care to be one of them. But that is sort of off point. I am trying to be edifying.

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you too wrestle with self-doubt, remember that self-doubt can cripple you into never putting yourself out there. Don’t let it. Let it wash over you and remind you of your self-confidence, your self-worth, and your uniqueness. (Have a glass of wine and cry, too, if you like that sort of thing.)

My Companion

I spent hours dreaming of a different life as a child. My life was rich and engaged, but my heart was a butterfly never satisfied with the flower she rested on. Once, at nine-years-old I ran away. I packed up my pink and purple Caboodles box with stupid shit like hair ties, bubble gum, and lipstick, and set out due west for California on foot. It took my older brother maybe ten minutes to figure out what I’d done and come find me on a busy street neighboring our house. “Where are you going?” He asked me, arms crossed, all domineering-protective-big-brother-like. “California.” I replied, squinting at him defiantly. “Your headed toward McKinney, and in a couple more blocks you’ll be in the only projects in Denton.” My face fell, but I was not easily deterred. I started stomping still for California, even though I was walking east and toward a dangerous part of town. After following me for a block or two, he grew weary and maybe bored, and just picked my skinny pre-adolescent ass up and carried me home over his shoulder. This would not be  the last time I considered running away, though future attempts were far more feather-brained and rage driven, but it was the first time I gave in to the siren call of my longing.

Longing leads us places, and then it forces our eyes to open and see that we can run but not hide, we can hide but not be safe. The idea is one I chew on in my novel, and also one I dance with in my life. I have never been one for absolutes, I need the possibility that maybe offers.

I fidget and flutter around my home, I fly through ideas and scenario like an easy summer read. The longing lingers, and it makes me eternally wonder where the road is taking me. Writing helps because I can let the longing overtake me, in that quiet place where my mind meets my story and possibility is born. I can feel it powerfully directing me on a twisting road. I can handle it with abandon. The only sufferer of my longing then is my own mind and the characters that populate it.

The Monster Saved Me

There’s a door in the floor of my granny’s house. It sits under the rug we use to wipe our feet on. Bayou stench festers on this rug. The smell of dead earth — that lingering hideousness of a body rotting into the ground. Every time we get the rains, more show up, more coffins the ground couldn’t hold. The coffins remind me I’m mortal. Sometimes I forget. It’s easy when I wear the cape Papaw made me from the duck cloth he uses to mend the sails of his shrimper. The cape is red, it repels water and knives. But it calls to the monster that lives under the floor of my granny’s house. The door to his prison — the prison my granny made for him.

Granny invited the Priest over for tea in the parlor. The Priest stood right on top of the monsters door, his bible in his hand, his collar crisp and white. He’s talked a lot about my sins since he got here. I’m a sinner. I’m too old to be wearing a cape and saying whatever comes to my mind. The Priest says Gran can’t help me, but he can — the church can, he corrects with a smirk.

I tap the handle of my knife on the crisp white lace tablecloth. I sip my tea through my teeth. Every time, Granny closes her eyes like that will block out the sound of my slurps. The Priest is asking me if I understand my sins. I nod. I’m a girl with dirty fingernails, who won’t sit through Mass and refuses to go to confession. I got no interest in cooking and my hair mats at the back from laying in the grass by the bayou with boys in dirty overalls. I’ve spread my legs too much. Granny says she’s knows I’m just like my momma that way. She don’t know the half of it though.

Gran agrees. I need some reform — a ruler to my thighs. I need to see the monster. He’d know what to do about my problem with civility. He’d know what to say to the Priest that would make him stop eying me like a piece of dirty meat. The Monsters voice is a whisper in my ear. Even when I’m swearing to Granny I never opened the door. That cellars off limits, Noula, you mind me or else. The threat’s wasted now. There is no or else. Or else is a few days away, its a uniform of white knee socks and plaid that sits on my bed.

The Priest is leaving. His long fingered hand covers my shoulder and squeezes, too hard for a Man-of-the-Cloth. Granny wants me to carry the tray. Yes, ma’am, I say sourly. The rug over the door is all furled. The Priest’s collar, a corner all starched and stiff, peaks from the crack in the door. I’ll get it later, I think, after the bones are all clean.

Written as an InMon prompt. My first in a very long time. 

Resting like a Writer Should

I wrote a couple weeks ago about how I was filling my time in between this draft and the inevitable rewrites to follow. I expected it to be gruesome. Rest can be a phantom to the mind of a writer. Thinking like a writer is pretty hard to turn off. It bubbles within your subconscious even when you are trying to just watch The Avengers and eat some Sour Patch Kids. The brain of a writer is constantly searching, and it will keep you in a wandering bliss of never-ending rewrites if you let it.

Right before I took my break I was certain that the story was good enough to take the next step, but time away proved me wrong. I received some feedback from an early reader friend. She loved it, but she felt it could be improved. My first reaction was sort of adolescent. I felt like firing back with, Well, I rubber your glue, or some sort of nonsense like that. Instead, I took a breath and reread her comments again. This time I remembered that she was a good reader, and she was also being really gentle. She didn’t tear it apart (as an editor would) she just thought there were kinks.

I took more of a break. I decided that I needed to wait to act. I needed to stew a bit in my dissatisfaction. Every writer wants immediate, glowing reviews. We want our readers to pitch their response at us with such fervor we bend over backwards. They may, or some may, and those who do will be the ones who come to your book signings and follow your blog just to bask in the words of the one who created for them characters they wanted to live with. My friend found a character like that in my story, and this was the greatest compliment she could have given me.

I waited. Watched some more movies and tried to read some more books. Reading was hard. Reading just made me want to write. I am pretty susceptible to the power of suggestion. Someone talks about cheese, my mouth-waters for brie. Someone mentions coffee, I suddenly feel sleepy. I read beautiful writing, I need to put some words together. It’s a viscous and inconvenient truth. So I tried another movie. Another superhero movie. Thor, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring the brother of the guy who plays Gale. The way beefier, kind of shockingly studly brother of the sort of boring guy who plays Gale. Why Thor? It was on Netflix streaming and I’m on a kick from The Avengers. Stop judging me.

Thor was the answer. (Maybe because for two hours I wasn’t thinking about holes in plot or prose, but was drooling over a pretty, pretty boy.) I don’t know why, but something clicked, and once it did, I knew I could start writing again. But I am not yet rewriting. This work will not be seen (or not in this form anyway), but it is work that I have needed to do and never seen a way to begin. It is work that changes how I see things. This work also makes a few sections of the book complete scrap.

Taking a break means letting your mind just be free. Stop writing in your head when your on the subway. Stop relating everything you experience to the plot of your book. Stop looking for answers in other writers work. Stop pretending to listen to your friends when really diagraming their sentences in your head. All these things are the crutches of a writer, and we lean on them to get through the time when we aren’t actually tapping out words. But sometimes, flopping on the couch with a glass of wine in the afternoon and watching a movie is the medicine your overworked writing brain needs. This advice goes for mothers, and students, and working professionals who live on their cell phones. Shit clears when you let it. Stop worrying you’ll lose it if you check out for a few days. Chances are, you may actually find it.

Filling time

Lately, (and by lately, I mean, since Wednesday) I have been faced with a dilemma. Patience is a virtue I am usually bankrupt in. It is also something I must do as I wait for feedback from early readers of my manuscript, including an agent friend of mine. The first couple of days I felt like my skin was being picked at by tiny, flame fingered trolls. I could still feel my narrator inside, running parallel with me, screaming that I couldn’t leave her that way. I know this sounds insane, but truthfully most writers are a little bonkers.

I also began to balk at the idea that this book I had written with ambitions for publications and widespread distribution (lofty goals in this market) was being read by very close, and trusted friends who wanted me to succeed. There reaction will be real, but they are kindly invested in the future of my work. (I hope, I don’t generally run with backstabbing b*tches.) How will it be for me when others with no care for my well-being or knowledge of who I am, read this.

I know what you’re thinking, “You will suck it up and be thankful they read it at all.” I think you’re right. If you aren’t thinking that, and are giving me a virtual edifying kiss on the cheek, I would like to thank you for the sentiment and promptly cry on your shoulder.

In the whirlwind of writing my manuscript I have often been captured by the narrator, drawn in as prisoner by the world she lives in and the fight she fights. Now that the bulk of the work is behind me — unless the consensus is that my book is not worth reading  at all, a reality writers are faced with everyday — the next step will be much different than the last. There will be times when I will have to actually participate in my life without thinking about my book.

It’s been nine months of solid work. Some authors work years on a manuscript, some spend a decade writing one huge story arch (see JK Rowling), while others still pine away on unfinished projects with no hope of an end. In the grand scheme, this experience so far has been relatively smooth. Though from the inside it felt very messy.

So…what am I doing to alleviate the stress of being patient in earnest?

  • Reading
  • Blogging
  • Gathering knowledge about my genre
  • Watching movies! Finding TV shows on Netflix and harping on about how nothing on TV is as good as Mad Men.
  • Playing with Sam — he has had to endure a lot of Zombie-Mommy since I began writing my book. He has handled it with great grace and piles of new superhero figures.
  • Crying. This is involuntary and not at all helpful.
  • Relaxing. Getting brows necessarily waxed, toes painted, back massaged, hair highlighted. All things I let fall during the mad dash.

Now I leave you, but not empty handed. You can ponder with me the cuteness of this pig. (Where do I get one and how can I sneak it past my landlord? ) Also, what makes a person wear stilettos? And should we petition for Pluto to be a planet again? (Ah, the things I think of when I am not working…)

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A Writers List of Ways Not To Write

Some things I like to do when I’m trying to remember how to write a sentence are, at random:

  • Run through the ABC’s, then try to do it backwards. This never works. I would fail a sobriety test were this actually part of the criteria.
  • Get up, get something to drink, sit down. Get up, get a snack (usually a bagel), sit down. Drink my drink while I stare at the letters on my keyboard that have turned into hieroglyphics. Go to the bathroom because I have drank my drink and now everything that was in my bladder seems to be trying to make room for everything I just drank.
  • Check Facebook. Like a whole bunch of friends status updates. Be unable to update my own status because I can’t remember how to write a sentence. Get annoyed that I don’t have more friends to stalk.
  • Disturb the dog.
  • Turn on the TV and then wish we had cable.
  • Check Zulily to make sure there is nothing I missed when I checked it this morning/remind myself why I don’t need anymore clothes/shoes/stuff for Sam.
  • Text someone. This can be difficult because I am using only symbols.
  • Check on Samuel, who is sleeping if I am writing at home, and wish he would wake up so I could blame him for my inability to get anything accomplished. I don’t blame him to his face, to his face I give milk and fruit snacks.
  • Try to read and then get annoyed that whoever I am reading was able to finish all their sentences. Feel guilty for wanting to beat them over the head with their published book. Promise myself when I have a book published it will annoy some other writer and hopefully motivate them to push past writers block.
  • Think about Anne Lamont and her infinite writing wisdom. Remind myself that most of what I would be writing right now if I could would probably be shit.
  • Sometimes I read a passage from a YA book I like, like this one:

             “I also become a little fixated on his eyelashes, which ordinarily you don’t notice much because they’re so blonde. But up close, in the sunlight slanting in from the window, they’re a light golden color and so long I don’t see how they keep from getting all tangled up when he blinks.”

(*If you know where that’s from then we should chat about how awesome we are.)

  • That usually reminds me that I am also writing something I love, and I can put the words together, even if I have to try a hundred times to get it right.
  • Then I begin to type, and sometimes I lose my grasp on reality, I forget the world exists, or that writers block ever happens to me at all.