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Monday, October 27, 2014

Igniting Or Extinguishing The Creative Spark?

I am on the brink. If this is my "make it or break it year" then the month of November, National Novel Writing Month, must be my "make it or break it month." So, today, five days away from NaNoWriMo — I am on the brink.

Perched on the edge of the brink, has led me to extreme introspection. Beyond the obvious "can I do this?" I have also asked myself: "why have I never done this before?" If, at various points in my much younger life — high school, college, young adulthood (i.e. before kids) — I have failed to ignite the creative spark within me, how will I suddenly be able do it now?

A few weeks ago I attended WAMFest (Words And Music Festival) at Fairleigh Dickson University with numerous young college students on the brink of either igniting or extinguishing their own creative sparks. The presenters I saw (Neil Burger, Neil Gaiman, and Salman Rushdie) had all begun reaching for and ultimately achieving their creative goals at a fairly young age. I wondered, what about them gave them the courage to ignite their creative sparks early on and why didn't I? 

Ultimately, I think, I just wasn't ready before — I was too immature. But now, being only slightly more mature, I am ready. Now is my time. This is my year. I am on the brink.

But, what about my daughter who, at ten years old, also sits on the brink — on the edge of childhood and adolescence? Will she have the courage to ignite her creative spark? And, what will I do to ignite it or extinguish it?

I fear that we, normal well-meaning parents, do more to extinguish the creative spark in our children than ignite it. Maybe we are afraid that by signing up our daughter for all the acting classes she's been requesting, we are setting her up for a life of disappointment or failure. Our son may show artistic talent but instead of signing him up for art classes, we sign him up for soccer because it's good exercise. Maybe out of a misguided sense of protection, we'd rather snuff the creative spark in our children then send them out into the big bad world and have someone else do it. Maybe we'd rather our son pursue a career he has no passion for than be a 35 year old living in our basement waiting for the muse. Maybe we'd rather our daughter have a career than wait on tables in some NYC dive while she waits for that big break. Are we doing our children a horrible disservice by never allowing them to burn bright and achieve their creative dreams? Or are we just being realistic?

If I had majored in Creative Writing in college and spent my young adulthood penning trite novels and short stories — where would I be today? Would I still be sitting here on the brink? Would I already be there or would I have long given up trying?

There is no way to really know. I just trust that everything I've done up until now has brought me here and since I am happy where I am, all the what-ifs are meaningless.

However, there are no what-ifs for my children. Yet. I hope that I can help them achieve their own goals whatever they may be and not extinguish them.

How about you? What do you do to ignite or extinguish your own or your children's creative sparks?

Igniting the creative spark
Ignite the light and let it shine?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Is That A Pencil In My Bed? #amwriting

The other morning, I woke to something long and hard jabbing me in the side. I'll skip to the punch line: It was a pencil. 

NaNoWriMo 2014 (NaNoWriMo What?) is almost here – so I have taken to carrying around a nice sharpened pencil and notes with me everywhere, sometimes even to bed. This might be the longest I've ever prepared to write anything that didn't involve Google, Wikipedia, and Internet distractions (alright, fine, there have been plenty of distractions too but I am *trying* to be good!).


My pencil and I have had some fun the last few weeks – brainstorming, plotting, and outlining. Of course, I've also abused my pencil – thrown it, cursed it, threatened to leave it forever. This outlining stuff is tedious – to think of all the minute details that may never even make it into the novel.

10 more days to NaNoWriMo and we’ll see if my pencil-time has paid off! Of course, then it’ll be time to break out the red pen which I know is even more frustrating hence why I generally give up at that point… But I’m determined not to let that happen again (if only so my daughter can witness me seeing it through)!   


Now excuse me while I go finish plotting with my pencil…

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

730 Days of Lame Excuses Later...

     I have been toying around with the idea of being a writer for decades - jotting down random notes and pieces of stories in notebooks for more than half of my life figuring one day I'd be a "real" writer. A few years back, as I watched my babies turn into big kids right before my eyes, I realized - if I don't make this work NOW, when will I?

     At some point on my quest to make this writing thing work, I came across a blog titled something to the effect of "365 Days of Novel Writing" (although I can't seem to find it now). Essentially, a women was blogging about her journey to write a novel in one year (I have no idea if she wrote that novel or what became of it). When I saw the blog I scoffed at myself and thought I should write a blog titled "365 Excuses NOT to Write a Novel" because knowing my undisciplined procrastinating self, I figured that is what would happen... Thus, the seed was planted...

     Roughly two years ago today "365 Excuses by Julie" was born. 47 excuses later - I still don't have any published short stories or novels but I have been writing more than ever before and will continue to plug away at it... I am gearing up for NaNoWriMo again this year (NaNoWriMo What?) and am not only determined to be a NaNoWriMo winner but to complete a manuscript worth sending out into the world. If for no other reason than to show my children it can be done.

     To celebrate the two year anniversary of my documented writing life (or poor excuse for one), I've put together this "flashback blog." Here are some of the "365 Excuses By Julie" blog posts of note from the past two years:

Excuse Me! - This is my first blog post and, since I almost never talk about being a writer in real life, this is how I "came out" as being writer to all the people I know (virtually). 
I Was Too Desensitized - This blog post after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting bears repeating for multiple reasons: One, let us never be so desensitized by violence that a headline about a school shooting seems common-place; Two, let us never forget the children and teachers that lost their lives. Three, let us remember the brave teachers that saved their students' lives that day. Four, let us never take advantage of every single day that we have with our own children because it can be ripped away from us in one instant. 
I Need Some Obsession Up In Here - Go head and click this blog entry because not many other people have. This blog article is one of my lowest clicked blog posts so I figured I'd revisit it here. I envy those that have obsessive drive and determination -- those that have let nothing get in the way of their goals and dreams. Those that have succeeded even when their dreams have seemed far-fetched and unattainable. In short, I wish I was a little more obsessive with my dreams... 
Because One Day The Kids Will Be Grown - Just because... 
I Need To Put My Butt In A Chair - Writer's write. Everyday. No matter what. Just write. It doesn't have to be good, it just has to be written. You can't edit or revise a blank page. End of story. I need this reminder glued to my forehead. Because daily I have excuses of why I didn't write when I really just need to put my butt in the chair and write! 
You Don't Really Want A Gift, Do You? -- I have to include this blog in the list because I get a lot of clicks and some flak for writing it. I wrote it because I felt like Teacher Appreciation Day was becoming a way to flaunt Pinterest-prowess and not necessarily a way to show appreciation for teachers. I feel like teachers should be appreciated every day and not just on Teacher Appreciation Day. But I do understand as a homemade mother's day gift hoarder that some teachers (and nurses) do appreciate these gifts and am not really trying to say that they shouldn't get them but just that maybe we should try harder every day to show appreciation... 
I Used To Be The Best Mom - I just like this one because, like most moms, I fall way short of the super-mom I envisioned I would be. 
Worth The Move - I am a strong believer that everyone comes into your life for a reason. Sadly, I have moved away from too many wonderful people. The wonderful ladies from my Moonwriters group being top of the list. I wish my stint in South Jersey wasn't so short but am grateful you came into my life and look forward to working with you ladies if only through Facebook and email. 
If Cliches Came In An Adam Levine Package - Go figure, this is my top clicked blog post. Apparently, if you put "Adam Levine" in your title you get lots of clicks (I wonder what happens if you put Adam Levine in the body of your blog or what if you write the words "Adam Levine" and "body" close together...). Those clicks might not be the most targeted since the blog post has less to do with Adam Levine and more to do with my bemoaning my writing as always sounding trite and cliched. This is a common problem for me and other newbie writers (so much so I have two blog entries about cliched writing). 
Need Some Motivation - As I gear up for NaNoWriMo take two, this seems like a good blog post to include in the list. It has some helpful pep talks from real live successful published authors.
     There you have it - 10 of the 47 excuses I have written over the last two years: Click. Read. Enjoy. Comment. Share. Repeat often.

     Bonus: I was trying to decide what picture to include in this flashback blog post when I came across this picture of Snotty Lottie from my blog post titled I Wasn't Prepared For THIS! So that's my picture this week, just to make you laugh...


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

I Am Not Meant For This!

     After I put my youngest on the bus, I surveyed the disaster that my children left in their wake, got down on my knees and cried out “I am not meant for this sh$t!” Then my dog put his stinky muzzle in my face, licked the lone tear, and hacked something on my cheek.

    Hopefully, it was the lack of sleep that made me question the 10 years I have spent doing exactly this shit. See, the night before my husband and I were sleeping in our usual positions – on opposite edges of the mattress with our five year old sprawled perpendicular between us – when our son wakes us with the declaration, “I peed myself.” We dutifully sent him off to change and wash his hands while we inched further away from the middle lest the pee touch us whispering blame: Did you make sure he peed before bed? Did you let him have something to drink before bed? You have to actually watch him pee because he lies. Maybe you shouldn't have given him that fourth juice box. The boy returned, crawled into my arms and fell back asleep cradled over the edge of the bed. Me, watching the clock until it was time to go downstairs and make breakfast and lunches, dreading the choices: cereal is processed and has too much sugar; oatmeal but not the instant because that too is processed and has too much sugar; or eggs but only the free range ones from a local farm otherwise the chickens most likely were caged up cannibals injected with antibiotics and hormones. And, for lunch: do I use whole wheat bread or does that have too much gluten? Am I allowed to use peanut butter or is the kid sitting next to my daughter going to go into anaphylactic shock? How about hazelnut, is that actually a nut? 

     Sleep deprivation aside, if I am not meant to do this shit, what am I meant to do? And, why is it that I can’t seem to manage to do the same shit that women were doing for centuries before me? What is my excuse? 

     Logically, I can blame my mother. Maybe she, in the post-feminist world, didn't feel it necessary to prepare me for this shit so logically when I am faced with the conundrums: how do I make this from scratch; how do I iron that; how do I sew this; how do I clean that? The answer is: I don’t f'ing know. And neither does she! So maybe that means I blame her mother or her mother’s mother. Maybe for generations women have been whispering into their baby girls' ears: “You are not meant for this shit.” 

     Now what? Who’s going to do this shit? Are we turning into a generation of stay at home moms that send their two year olds to school because we don’t know what to do with them; send the laundry and the mending out; hire cleaning ladies; cook all our meals with a box, 2 cups of water and a microwave? And, if we absolve ourselves from all activities that were once meant for women, do we then absolve our husbands – are they no longer obligated to fix our cars; mow our lawns; pay our bills? And, if so, what are we all going to do – sit around watching Netflix? Piddling around with novels while really just reading articles posted to Facebook?


     Maybe we just have too much shit to do. Do our kids really have to wear something cute and unique every single day? Does that cute outfit then have to immediately be stain-treated, washed, and folded neatly in the drawer with 20 other cute and unique outfits? Do they have to be in every sport offered per season plus piano lessons, art classes, and Sunday school? Do we have to seek out BFFs for them and make sure to jam-pack free time with playdates so they never feel unpopular at school? 

     Or, maybe, I really am just tired. Maybe I’ll change the pee sheets, take a nap, take a shower, bake those homemade sugar-free, gluten-free, peanut-free muffins I found on Pinterest and feel like supermom by the time the kindergarten bus rolls in... (Or, search for the recipe, get distracted by an article about the Kardashian's until my son's school bus is sitting out front honking at me.).

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Pull Of The PTO

I often wonder how successful female writers/moms structure their time – how do they fit it all in? I, of course, fantasize that they hire out most of their chores, have nannies, and spend very little time with their kids. I am sure; however, this is not true. I am sure that they attack writing with much more discipline than I and therefore are able to actually complete manuscripts and sell them while dinner is simmering in the crockpot.

I am a classic time-waster/procrastinator; therefore, this year I told myself I was going to limit the activities that would keep me away from writing during my kid-free writing time. To that end, I resisted the initial urge to volunteer as a room parent for my children’s classes this year. But somehow as my son’s very sweet kindergarten teacher announced repeatedly that they were still looking for room parents, I found myself volunteering to help. Two days later while the kids were all in school I was sitting in a PTO meeting listening to women debate policies, activities, fundraisers, and budgets. I couldn't help feel it was a colossal waste of time – I mean, really, is my involvement in the Parent-Teacher Organization going to help my children with their education?

Once again, I find myself wondering – was Jodi Picoult ever a room mom? Is Sara Gruen active in the PTO/PTA/Home School Association? Has Jennifer Weiner stood in school during picture day to comb the hair of kindergartners? Has Judy Blume ever sorted Kidstuff books?

I know JK Rowling wrote in a café while her children napped in their prams but I squandered away what little napping time I had on laundry and dishes. According to Wikipedia, Danielle Steel was determined to spend as much time as possible with her own SEVEN children, often writing at night and making do with only four hours of sleep. Apparently Toni Morrison also would write before the kids woke up and after they went to sleep at night. In an interview, she is cited as having said:
“I remember one day when I was confused about what I had to do next – write a review, pick up groceries, what? I took out a yellow pad and made a list of all the things I had to do. It included large things, like ‘be a good daughter and a good mother,’ and small things, like ‘call the phone company.’ I made another list of the things I wanted to do. There were only two things without which I couldn't live: mother my children and write books. Then I cut out everything that didn't have to do with those two things.”
That sounds like a new mantra to me! The look on my kids’ faces when I enter the school for whatever reason is worth every minute I am away from my computer. Yesterday, I may have spent my writing time monitoring school pictures, but as my kindergartner flaunted me around to his classmates, surreptitiously kissing my hand -- I knew it was worth it. I may fail daily at achieving both the title of “Supermom” and “Author” but if I can achieve little advances towards both I am happy and hopefully so are the kids!

How could I resist missing this Field-Day Face just to piddle away at writing?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

If I Were Westerosi...


This spring and summer I spent every free moment engrossed in the current five novels of the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin, aka The Game of Thrones books. I entered the world of the seven kingdoms with excitement and vigor – devouring the first two books in a few weeks but by book five I was exhausted, burned out. Tired of all the characters I still couldn’t keep track of, tired of all the cliffhangers with no resolution in sight. I needed a nap. Actually, more like book detox. I quickly read Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed so I could find myself devouring a book that is both beautiful and important. While I have to say that I didn’t enjoy And the Mountains Echoed as much as Hosseini’s other two books (A Thousand Splendid Suns being my favorite), it was still a beautiful story and did the trick of detoxing me from Westeros.

Now that I can look back on A Song of Ice and Fire series with more prospective and as I am going back to my daily suburban housewife/stay at home mom routines... I wonder, if I were a character in The Game of Thrones, what kind of Westerosi would I be (assuming, of course, that I would be a Westerosi and not from over the narrow sea somewhere)? Would I be highborn or lowborn? Would I live in King’s Landing or one of the seven kingdoms? Would I be a southerner, a northerner, or a widling mayhaps? Would I worship the new gods or the old? What is the equivalent of a Christian American middle class suburban mom?

I did find a Game of Thrones Name Generator:

My GoT name is Alerie Antaryon.
Take Ladies of Westeros today!
Created with Rum and Monkey's Name Generator Generator.

Based on A Song of Ice and Fire Wiki, the character with that last name Antaryon is a Braavosi but I don’t see myself as living anywhere other than the seven kingdoms.

Here’s what I can say of myself based on my life decisions:
I like to be in a suburb that’s close to the city but feels far removed. I like summer. I like to be near water. I like the idea of being rebellious, but it’s too risky so instead I just stray slightly left or right of the norm. While I am certainly not upper class, I’ve lived a pretty comfortable life and have had minimal struggles with money (besides the usual middle class single income woes). I am fairly intelligent and educated, but certainly not maester-level.    

I  figure, I’d probably live somewhere in The Reach, somewhere outside of Highgarden. Maybe the daughter or wife of one of the lesser houses sworn to the Tyrell’s, like House Crane of Red Lake.
.
I’ve spend WAY too much time of this today but it was fun. Would love to hear what you think – what kind of Game of Thrones character would you be? Where would you live?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Doctors, Vets, And More... Oh, My!

Less than 7 full days into school and I already have excuses for why I am not writing or getting anything else done (look how easy that was!):

We have already managed two doctors visits and squeezed in a visit to the vet as well...

My youngest had a very yucky snotty nose the entire time we were on vacation the week before school started. I finally brought him to the doctors last week to find that he has two "raging" ear infections. Poor guy probably had those infections brewing the whole time we were on vacation :( (although it didn't seem to bother him as he jumped from pool to pool).

What almost did thwart our vacation was a call from the dog kennel our very first night. Our 10 year old boxer had to be rushed to the emergency vet for what appeared to be symptoms of bloat. Bloat, if not treated quickly with emergency surgery, can be fatal to a dog of any age particularly a 10 year old boxer. And, after I talked to the vet whilst standing in the Wal-Mart parking lot with a cart full of supplies for the week, I thought we were going to lose him. But, luckily, by the time I arrived back at the hotel 2 hours later my husband had given the go-ahead for the surgery and my dog had survived. (2 hours later? Oh, did I skip the part where I was a blubbering idiot and locked my keys, purse, and cell phone in the car while I stood outside with melting groceries in a South Carolina Wal-Mart parking lot begging strangers if I could borrow their cell phones? Hmm.. I wonder how I could have left that part out?)

Our dog is wonderful, back to his old self. He was spoiled rotten by the vet techs while we were away and the only thing I had to do when we got back was bring him to get his staples removed.

Mommy/Doggie Selfie. Love this guy!
Doctor visit #2 came Monday for my middle child. He already managed to pick up a virus that I was worried might be strep (headache, sore throat, stomach ache, fever). Apparently, though, it's just a virus and he's back in school two days later (hopefully not spreading it around).

In between, of course, I have gotten the worst cold I have had in a long time. The last few cold and flu seasons I have managed to stay pretty healthy thanks to my persistent use of Airborne (I swear by it!) BUT apparently you have to actually remember to take it while your children are snotting all over you or it doesn't work. So, I've been coughing, sneezing, and not resting all night and puttering around all day in a fog (which please oh please should be lifting soon).

Oh, my! There you have it, less than 7 days into the school year and I have managed excuse #45 of why I am never going to be a published writer (or accomplish much of anything else!).