What’s Up Wednesday: I’m Proud of All My Friends Edition*

WUWKiteWhat’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme geared toward readers and writers, allowing us to touch base with blog friends and let them know what’s up. Should you wish to join us, you will find the link widget at the bottom of Jaime’s blog.

*If you can tell me which FRIEND said this, and give me the episode, I will give you a full social media shout out. And we will also need to become best friends. 

What I’m Reading

I am still reading UnSouled by Neal Shusterman, but I have a good reason. I spent a few days reading my friend and CP, Susan Crispell’s debut Adult Magic Realism novel, Love & Cupcakes this week. I definitely, heartily recommend this book if you like sweet romance and swoony guys, but even more if you have a sweet tooth. I’ll talk about it more in my interview with her next week, so stay tuned!

What I’m Writing 

I wrote about 6,000 words last week. NEW words. My WIP found it’s way back into my good graces. My characters took on new levels of honesty. I began to feel like I could actually do this thing I set out to do. This feeling gave me confidence to make some changes to my other novel, and even if they end up being thrown out, it felt good to be back in that world. I guess my Muse and I are firmly back together.

What Inspires Me

I have some very talented friends. Some are actors. Some are writers. Some are dancers. Some are computer nerds who speak in code. Conversations with gifted people get my gears spinning.

With his cousin Jubilee.

With his cousin Jubilee.

My son. I shared last week that we got a new puppy. Sam is a cautious child. His confidence and his belief in himself stammers when faced with new, and seemingly, impossible situations. In the weeks since we got him a puppy, his willingness to branch out, away from his comfort zone and into new areas, has noticeably shifted. I am the opposite of shy, timid, but that can be misconstrued sometimes as being infallibly certain. Everyone needs to be reminded they can do whatever they are doing. No one is immune to fear.

What Else I’m Up To

I have a lot of reading and critiquing to do to get ready for the Djerassi workshop in just a little over two weeks. This was pointed out to me yesterday, at which point I started requesting whiskey and silence.

My husband’s birthday is today. I’m making him manicotti for dinner this evening. The fact that I am cooking something that requires a recipe and multiple steps shows how much I care. Friday we’re having a birthday party at our house with local pizza, kraft beers, and professionally made cupcakes. My husband is the best of guys. I am thankful everyday that he’s mine.

jennifer-lawrence-oscars-gif-4-yay

Eternal respects in the form of Jennifer Lawrence’s pretty face go to Samantha Hager and Melanie Stanford for knowing that Ross is the FRIEND that bruises like a peach!

Break Taking

I’ve been gone. Literally, and mentally, for about 10 days. If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you will know I have been in a state of bliss. Seriously. I was in Hawaii, a place of magical sunsets and mysterious beauty, a place where the smell of saltwater and plumeria mingles in your nostrils, where your tongue is flooded with savory, moist, sensuous flavors, and your mind is captured by rare and treacherous beauties. It’s Paradise built on dangerous black lava fields and volatile ocean waves.

Need proof?

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The funny thing about being gone is that I now have to come back. While on the Island, (Yes, I thought a lot about LOST too, while hiking. No smoke monster sightings though.) I found it within myself to let go, and hold on to the experience at hand. When you work on a book for 18 months with almost no breaks, soaking up other experiences becomes difficult. The lives of your characters can take you over.

Before we left for Hawaii, I was frayed. I was worn out. The last two years of my personal life have been filled to the brim with change. We moved to New York with our then two-year-old. I wrote a novel and then revised it four times. We flew back and forth from New York to Texas 14 times. We moved back to Texas, bought a house, and sent our son to school.

There wasn’t a moment in the midst of that where I didn’t also have to find a way to make my son’s world consistent and stable. There wasn’t a day where I didn’t wonder what the hell we were doing? There wasn’t a day in there that I wished I could go back to a simpler time in my life. To a time before change became my normal.

It did take its toll. When I finished this last draft, the agent I’ve been working with (who happens to be a good friend and supercool chick) advised me to give my brain a break. This was hard advice to take, and in a lot of ways, I think I would have ignored it if not for my time in Hawaii. The week before I left on that trip, I had a panic attack at the dentist. I freaked out about traveling without my son (who had informed me he would not go to Hawaii with me), contemplating not going at all. In that moment, the need for control became more powerful than the possibility of new experiences. The reality of missing my brother’s wedding, was outweighed by the chance that I might take a wrong step.

With grace, and wine, I got on that plane and got to spend 9 days with my brother’s new ohana. The open arms we were received with, the beauty and kindness I met at every turn, began to melt away the hard shell. The shell of survival. The weariness created by yanking myself up again and again even when I didn’t have the strength. The passion it took to press through four (often MAJOR) revisions. The challenge of living in two places, and then leaving one, and then not always feeling at home in the other. The loneliness created by realizing that while I was changing, so was everyone else, and now very little is the same.

What was left was softer, and more recognizable. It was someone closer to being ok with living and breathing and not always moving. I went parasailing with my brother a couple days before the rest of our party arrived. Flying over the deep blue water off the Kona coast, the wind whipping my hair wild, I felt strangely at peace. Settled. And I realized it wasn’t going to kill me to feel that way.

What’s funny about that is I know it doesn’t last forever. I know a part of me must be restless, must be unsettled, must be searching. A part of me will never cease the need for new discovery. That part makes me a writer. But that part can’t always be in control. That part doesn’t stop to stare at the sea just because it’s beautiful. That part can’t sit still and finish a meal, or listen rather than speak.

So, as I reemerge into the world, I am trying to hold that in my head. As new words begin to fill new pages, and new characters begin to surface, as I try to place a finger on the next story I want to tell, or the way to continue the story I am already telling, I remember to look out. To see the stories developing in front of me, not just inside me. To be inspired, but to be available. The writing cave is somewhere to go, when necessary. That isolated space, where nothing can take you away from your world, is vital. But it’s not somewhere to live.

When I got home, and I saw my son’s face, and I listened to his stories about his time without me, I was glad I could listen. I was glad I didn’t feel the need to open my computer or worry over word count. I was glad that, for just a little longer, I was free.

Many times the life we choose can force us to sacrifice that freedom. The concept that we can have it all, all the time, is a false one. We can’t. Some days I can’t write because I have laundry to wash, or a son to engage, or a house to maintain, or a friend or a sibling or a parent that needs help. There have been times when that made me angry, when I wanted, secretly, to be alone in the world so I could be surrounded by my characters without responsibility. I’m not proud of that, but I won’t pretend it’s not true. And the best I, or you, or anyone can do is recognize that without grace we are all colossal failures.

Try just once, to live on island time. To sit too long at a cafe. To read a book when you should be ironing. To listen to a stranger who just needs an ear to bend. To say mahalo, thank you, even when you’re not feeling it. There will always be time to be unsettled, but giving your roots a chance to establish is how you grow.

Road Trip Wednesday: #164 If I had a bookstore

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 Week’s Topic is: Imagine you get to open your own bookstore. What would it look like? What kinds of books would you sell?

My son got present obsessed during Christmas, a totally normal and completely enraging pastime for three year olds. After the initial panic that present time was over wound down, Sam began to ask, “What present do you want?”, whenever he got bored. Whoever was around had to answer him, and then ask him the question in return. His answers range from a Spiderman bounce house, to a trip to the moon, to a puppy, etc., etc., etc..

I felt the only appropriate way to answer this was by looking inside for what I would have wanted as a little girl. Other than a window-seat and “to be a Newsie”, there was one lingering, unattainable desire I carried. Upon introspection I realized, I still carry it. So I said, “I want a library.” He furrowed his brow at me, “A library?” I grinned. “Yes, like the Beast gives Bell.”

The truth is, I have always dreamed of a room with books lining walls. When I was in my early teens the movie You’ve Got Mail was released. I wanted that bookstore. That home for books, where quirky people found not only a wonderful new companion made by words, but also answers and true friendship.

This makes me sound like a romantic, which I guess I am, to an extent. Or maybe I’m an idealist. Maybe my fantasy bookstore only exists in a movie, but it’s a fantasy, so that’s OK.

recycled

source: Mary Beth Butler

books

source: Project Vinyl

In my hometown of Denton, TX, there is a wonderful place called “The Recycled Bookstore”. It’s housed in the old Opera House, and jammed full of thousands of books, vinyl records, DVD’s and even VHS’s. When I was young, I thought the place was haunted. My friends and I would go there to get Nancy Drew books and search for wandering spirits.

My bookstore wouldn’t only be about the books, it would be about the atmosphere. It would be a place to go, not just to buy. It would be a retreat from the normal world because that’s what books are. Books are our way to more.

The other day Sam came to me in the kitchen while I was cooking. He and his dad had been playing “store”, and he had bought me a present. In his hand was my library.

read library lights

Inner Life of a Writer, Some Thoughts

I have talked at length about my obsessive nature with friends, family, my dog. No mental health professionals yet, but I never rule out a logical progression. By discussing it down to it’s finer points (and yes, I realize this is the very definition of obsession) I have concluded that I may never really get away from it. Or at least not as long as I write. John Updike said this:

The refusal to rest content, the willingness to risk excess on behalf of one’s obsessions, is what distinguishes artists from entertainers, and what makes some artists adventurers on behalf of us all.

It couples obsession with art, making the obsessed, when in pursuit of creative truth, a hero rather than a villain. Following obsession to the very point of insanity is a scary place I am sure. I am not there, nor do I expect to ever be, but I felt the gentle nudge to the edge of the cliff. The abyss below is where many authors reside.

Why does this happen? When an author begins to submerge themselves in the chasm that is their creative process, a lot of things can come undone. It unleashes the mind to explore, and often times, the mind has a hard time reigning itself in. I was speaking with a friend about this recently, also an artist, and he laughed at me. “So, your writing allows your obsessive behavior and your schizophrenia a proper outlet?” I very inscrutably said, “Well, yes.”

When I was in the final weeks of this last revision, writing stuff I didn’t want to write but that I loved, breaking down barriers I had put in place to keep myself comfortable, building on my world, I found it very difficult have conversations with people at the end of a writing day. I was turning into Gollum and my manuscript was my one ring.

Anyone who saw me while we were visiting Texas, in those last few days, can probably attest to the shift. When I was done I felt like I could finally see people. Like I was a horse removing blinders after a long race. Oh there you are, world I live in, friends and family. I had almost forgotten what you look like. I became Frodo with his task completed.

(Note: I realize this pic of Frodo is when he goes off to eternity with the Elves, which is a little morbid. But he’s finally HAPPY!)

For me, writing is both an outlet — as my friend put it — but also a cell in which I am prisoner. You may read that and at once declare concern, but don’t be hasty. When I am a prisoner to the words, I am alive inside. So when my warden releases me, and I am expected to reenter society and contribute, part of me longs for the cell again. The writer in me is never fully sane unless writing. I love my other hats. The mom hat. The wife hat. The friend hat. I relish that there are people in my life who love me and enjoy my company, and who I love and enjoy as well. I take great pride in teaching my son something new. But always, the writer hat is in my pocket, folded up and ready to be unfurled. You don’t turn that off, you just try to contain it. (For this reason, among other law related ones, I do not take mind-altering drugs. I don’t need help unleashing the monster inside.)

So, what about you? Do you have an obsession in your life that you also kind of love?

What to do? What To Do?

It sometimes takes a lot for me to dig myself out of my own mind. On days like this I find it difficult to do much more than coast. I am a bad coaster. I don’t like to feel unproductive, or directionless — and I really don’t like to be at the receiving end of my own disapproval. On those kinds of days — or weeks, or over-long months — I try to place this wandering mind on something to refocus it. Some of the ways I do that are as follows, in no particular order, with no discernible reasoning:

  • My son’s long black eyelashes. There is something mesmerizing about sapphire blue eyes curtained in charcoal lashes so long they can tickle your cheeks when he kisses your nose.
  • Real Estate. Not real estate in my budget were I looking to by a house or apartment. Not even real estate where I live or have lived before. Usually real estate in the most fantastic sense of the word.
  • Wander around the park (Central or Prospect) and pretend I’m in the woods. This is good for many reasons. Quiet. The location of the first third of my novel which I’m in revisions with. The chance to climb a rock or a tree. Running water. Playing pretend.
  • A nice glass of wine well before evening time. This may be counter productive since wine can also make you tired, but it definitely calms me down.
  • Default to reading some YA I need to familiarize myself with in order to be able to hold conversation with the rest of the YA writer/bloggers out there. I am behind. Sometimes this helps by merely triggering my longing to see my book in print and putting my brain back in the place it needs to make sentences someone might want to read.
  • Remember that everyone needs a break and then turn on an episode of Weeds because I am way, way behind on it.

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Being a writer, mom, and wife I forget sometimes to also be an individual person with many facets and needs. Sometimes I forget to place my mind on things beyond my need to finish rewrites. (To just get.it.done!) This can be a bad place to write from, because it can make you very selfish and one-sided. Writers revel in their solitude, but solitude and hard work is not the only way to create. And probably not the best.

Closings

Where have all the good bloodsucking corporations gone? Last month we learned that our beloved grocery store (the one very near my lovely, sunny apartment) was sold to a Walgreens. I learned this from one of the cashiers, a familiar teenager with long black hair and creamy caramel skin who was always a little aloof with me. As she rung up my diapers and box of Oreos, some toothpaste and a jug of milk —for the Oreos, milk’s favorite cookie — she leaned over and whispered, Hey, did you hear the Key Food is closing? I did a double take on the information, letting my mouth drop open, and groaned. Was this some sort of cruel joke she was playing on me? The frazzled mom who always argued with her son about buying a stick on tattoo from the vending machine.

The next few days would prove that this was not, in fact, some kind of belated April Fools prank, but was reality. When we decided to move to Windsor Terrace, this grocery stores proximity to our prospective apartment was a huge draw for us, newcomers to the Big City, and all. We felt safe with all that food and bathroom supplies across the street. Comforted that if we wanted a half-pint of Ben and Jerry’s after our son went to bed we could pop over easily and get it. Secure in the knowledge when it was blazin’ hot outside we could go stand in the freezer section for relief. This was all true for us, but overall, our plight is nothing in comparison to the longtime residents of the neighborhood.

This neighborhood is home to a lot of young families, but even more elderly residents, as well as a slew of independent businesses. The Key Food, for all intents and purposes, was the only supermarket in Windsor Terrace, a neighborhood packed with people dependent on that fact. I personally do not own a car, and am now being graciously carted to a grocery in Red Hook by my wonderful neighbor. My landlord’s parents live next door to us. They’re a lovely Italian couple in their 70s. They don’t drive, and aren’t in a position where they can walk down to 7th and Carroll St. to buy their groceries (then pay to have them delivered, and haul the perishables home.) The grocery gave them, and countless others, independence sorely needed and an ability to fend for themselves with dignity.

As I watch all of this unfold before my eyes, still a relative outsider in a neighborhood built by blue bloods, it pains me to see the lack of respect and consideration coming from this major corporation for the people they expect to patronize their store. Their unwillingness to comply with the simple request for a grocery section has shown their hand, and they’re already cheating. Where I come from, large pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS have food, wine and beer, along with aisles of shampoo and cough syrup.

In an online petition, written by one of the local business owners in Windsor Terrace, she goes so far as to tell Walgreens, “Don’t come here, we won’t buy from you.” And that is true. Many local residents have put signs in their windows that simply say: Boycott Walgreens. Others attended a rally at the Key Food shell where Walgreens reps discouraged further the idea that this neighborhood, and all the wonderfully weird people who live here, will not be seeing an ounce of sway on their part.

This little neighborhood war is a tragic statement, not only about this corporation, but about the thoughtless man who sold his grocery to a pharmacy. A man who made his money on the people of this neighborhood and then gave all of them the middle finger. Maybe that middle finger points to the real issue, the picture this paints for us a people. We talk a big game about respect, culture, and human equality in New York City, but we can’t get it right on a basic level. We can’t hear. This neighborhood has asked that they be heard. And Walgreens is choosing not to listen.

There is a real need in Windsor Terrace for a grocery. That need will exist whether Walgreens wants it to or not. Do I believe we’ll eventually let it go? Sure, some will, but others — those with deep roots here — are shaken where they live. Talking to neighbors on my block, many over sixty years old, the downturn in their eyes and the confusion is what registers most. And what about the fifty people now put out of jobs? The poor Walgreens CEO and Multimillionaire Key Food owner will say it’s just business, I get it. And maybe that’s true. But if they want to make money, they better start listening.

Couples Therapy

Marriage is like trying to write a novel. This could be said about life, raising children, etc.— but for the purposes of this post, I am only talking about marriage. I have been married for six years, so, yes, I got married very young. We have a solid partnership. We like each other a lot. Of course, we love each other a lot too, but liking him is often more valuable than loving him because it means we laugh together and we connect. We were watching a movie yesterday. We usually try to do that on the weekend when Sam is napping because by the time he falls asleep, we too, are pretty beat.

It was one of those indie-comedies where you always feel like, at any minute, someone is going to die. The plot centers around two brothers, one whose marriage is falling apart, the other whose world has fallen apart and he needs it to be redeemed. Overall, the movie was only a B, but there was a moment where the wife of the first brother says, “We’ve just gotten so off track, what’s any of this even for?” My overwrought writer brain grabbed a hold of that.

Many people get married because of passion, or the chemical thing called love. They get married because of a baby, or the fear of loneliness. Some marry merely because others around them are, and it seems the natural progression to their life. I’ve seen those marriages, they’re rocky. I’m not saying they won’t eventually level out, but they are always in a tenuous state. Marriages that start out like mine can end up destroyed, too, lost to the roaming world. Because marriage is like writing a novel.

Many writers start out really strong, with a clear reason for what they’re doing, an idea defined. The writer then sets off on the winding road to the end, and they lose their way. They forget what they started writing this for, what the goal and motivation of the protagonist is, and they end up very far away from where they wanted to be. They digress then — this can last for weeks, years, or forever. When it is the latter, a sort of divorce happens. They give up the project, not quite able to pinpoint where the love was lost, but losing it nonetheless.

I do this sometimes even when I’m blogging. I begin a post because I have a spark of an idea, and then in the writing, or because I’m distracted by other life factors, I forget the thesis statement of my post. And I’m then staring at the computer scratching my head and wondering, What the hell was I trying to do there? Like that character said, I’ve gotten off track somewhere.

Most marriages, even the train wrecks, are worth saving. Not every novel is. Or not every novel is in the state that it begins. It will need a new life, a slice with a red pen, and a diligence to finish. In this way, marriage and writing a novel are the same. The challenge is always in finding your way back to the heart, to the reason you began this journey in the first place. All of us are susceptible to getting off track, that is human nature — following rabbits down holes thinking it will lead to a better road — and all of us are capable of finding our way again.

Space

There are some moments I hope I never forget. Tonight, Samuel gave me one. We were watching Despicable Me — a truly genius animated movie about a super villain who finds love through adoption — before bed. The main character, Gru, has a flashback to watching the moon landing as a child wearing a cardboard space suit. He tells his mother that he will one day go to the moon. His mother degrades this dream.

Samuel turned to me and said, “I want to go to the moon. To be an astronaut.” I turned and smiled.

“You have to go to NASA.”

“You can come, we can go to the moon together.”

“I think the opportunity for me to be an astronaut has passed, but you still can.” He nodded and looked back at the TV.

Despite the obvious tenderhearted sweetness of wanting to take me to the moon, this moment surprised me with it’s clarity. My son could be an astronaut, this is not a fantasy but a reality because his whole world is laid in front of him unformed. I really could not. I never could have been, even if I’d wanted to (I have a recurring nightmare about floating in space above the Earth. I’m serious, one of my worst and deepest fears. That and the vastness of the ocean. And bugs in food. Not bugs as food, bugs in food.) and that is truly OK with me. That possibility will never be.

We spend a lot of time wasting away in a future we could never have had, or one we believe we could have, had we made a better turn somewhere. Right now, at 27 years old, I am finally tapping the well inside that had been waiting to give water. I could regret not realizing it sooner. Or, at the very least, doing things in an order that makes a little more sense. But, alas, that is not the route I took. I took the route where there are certain dreams that will never be, and certain ones that will be better than the dreams I lost.

When I was pregnant with Sam, I went to NASA with my family. I love NASA. My grandfather worked for them as an engineer during the Mercury and Gemini programs. But it also holds a certain darkness for me too. My grandfather died young, an alcoholic, destroyed by this weakness with much unrealized potential hanging from him like shackles. My mother talks about him, not as the man who died, but as the guy to lived a dream. She doesn’t romanticize his disease, or pretend he didn’t make the choices and walk the bad path, but she doesn’t ignore all that he was or could have been either.

We all need that I think, especially when we examine our lives and wonder what the hell we will ever have to show for it. If you are lucky, you will have more than one thing, more than one dream realized. And likely, more than one dream let go.

Later, when I went into labor with Sam, I was wearing the t-shirt I had gotten on that trip. It wasn’t consciously premeditated, but when I think back on it now, it was slightly serendipitous. Samuel will most likely do something that has nothing to do with space (though, in our family, science fiction is held in high regard as the only true form of entertainment available) and he is absolutely free to do that. But I will never forget a moment where he decided to go to the moon, or what that decision meant to me.