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I am dreading this recap this year, for some reason. Yet I am still doing it because TRADITION. I think I may start liberally tossing questions out the window. So BE PREPARED FOR THAT.

(This yearly recap originated with Linda of All & Sundry. If you’re so inclined, you can read past versions of my responses: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.)

Oh! And if YOU do this yearly recap, always or for the first time this year, send me a link in the comments won’t you? I love reading these.

  • What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?

I quit my job to write a novel. (Which I have not yet completed, BLARGH.) (Prediction: I sense that the topic of the previous parenthetical may reappear below.)

  • Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Last year, I said:

This year, I want to prioritize my husband, quality time with my kid, balance in my life… and I also want to really work on personal fulfillment. That sounds… vague and a little frou-frou and a lot privileged, but I think it will honestly help with the first three priorities. At least, I hope so. And I’m going to try.

I do think I have made solid steps on all fronts, and I attribute all progress to leaving my job at the end of March. I feel very fortunate that I have this little pocket of time during which I can be part-time novelist/part-time stay-at-home-mom. The reduction in stress has helped me be more present with my husband and daughter, and helped me really focus on contributing to my family in new ways. It has not been easy, for me, to give up on being a financial contributor. That has altered the identity I always felt I had, and it has been a challenge to adapt. But I do think I’m contributing in new and different ways, or at least contributing more in areas where I wasn’t before.

This year, I am going to finish the novel. That’s my primary goal. It’s taking so much longer than I anticipated just to eke out a first draft. I need to find some way to speed up the process. Because the first draft is only the beginning.

  • Did anyone close to you give birth?
  • Did anyone close to you die?
  • What countries did you visit?

Same as last year: Not really a big year for travel. I visited three states besides my own: Illinois, Florida, and my home state. All with Carla.

I can’t really imagine the answers changing in a big way anytime soon.

  • What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?

Better ability to prioritize my time. A fully drafted novel. Making my time with Carla richer, somehow, rather than making a bunch of slipshod and ultimately frustrating attempts at “activities.”

  • What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

March 31, which was my last day of working in the office.

  • What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Taking a leap of faith and quitting my office job. (OMG, broken record much?)

  • What was your biggest failure?

Not getting enough words on the page each day! I can trot out a 7,000-word blog post of a morning, but I seem to spend hours and hours coming up with a measly 200 for my manuscript! What gives? If I can do it elsewhere, why can’t I blather and drivel my way through a first draft?

  • Did you suffer illness or injury?

I am currently enjoying a bout of asthmatic bronchitis, which is super fun. Other than that, nothing too crazy.

  • What was the best thing you bought?

Scrivener!!! It is a tool for writers and I loooooooove it.

  • Whose behavior merited celebration?

This goes 100% to my husband. He is a rockstar. I can’t even express all the ways he’s shown up this year without drowning my keyboard in tears, so let’s move on.

  • Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

I mean do you really have to ask, non-sentient Survey created years ago with no knowledge of our current times? I think I’m going to cross this one out because it makes me sad and bewildered and fearful and shaky.

  • Where did most of your money go?

This question sucks. I really want to say something fun like “a new ski lodge in Aspen!” or “a twelve-week trek around Europe!” I guess I could say my potential earnings went toward financing my lifelong dream but that makes me feel dizzy and sick to my stomach so MOVING ON.

  • What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Last year I said: The holidays this year. Carla is so excited about EVERYTHING, and it is so fun to see that.

As with last year, I didn’t even KNOW what excited was! She has been super over the moon about everything. And she gets stuff now. Like, she understood the little countdown-to-Christmas calendar I put in her room, and the last couple of days she switched the numbers all by herself before I even got to her room. She has been really gung-ho about Hanukkah, and has helped her dad light the menorah and say the prayers. She loved decorating the tree and every night for a week she would pick up a present that she knew was for her and squeeze it and hop up and down and say, “It’s so HARD to WAIT until Christmas to open my present!” I mean, a tree full of presents and she didn’t realize most of them were for her, and yet she got So Worked Up about this one tiny thing. She loved all the holiday books I pull out each year, and expressed interest in Santa and Baby Jesus and the Maccabees alike. She loved the stockings, and asked questions about how Santa could do such and such. She loved painting ornaments for her grandparents. She loved collecting the Amazon boxes from the front stoop and putting them in the guest room to await her grandmother’s arrival. She loved singing Christmas carols. Everything this year was just SO. MUCH. FUN. I hope we have at least a couple more years of this pure, unadulterated joy in the season. It’s a mood lifter for sure, and helps make all those I-want-them-to-be-fun-and-meaningful-but-are-really-kind-of-tedious projects seem worthwhile and enjoyable.

  • What song(s) will always remind you of 2016?

I have to say the Frozen soundtrack. Carla hadn’t seen a movie in her entire life until Christmas 2015, and once we started we couldn’t stop. As toddlers are wont to do, she fell in love with Frozen and we have watched it eleventy billion times. PLUS we bought the Frozen soundtrack (we call it “Carly Songs”) on CD (yes, I still use CDs in my car) and we have listened to THAT at least seventy gazillion times. Also: Justin Beiber’s “Sorry” and “Let Me Love You” by DJ Snake featuring The Beibs. “Waves” by Miguel (the Kacey Musgraves version). “One Dance” by Drake. Carla does a mean dance move to Drake, and sings along very sweetly to “Let Me Love You” and “Waves.” Also also, on the classical front, I have grown very attached to Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2. I have some fantasy that I will learn to play it. (HA.)

  • Compared to this time last year, are you:
  1. a) happier or sadder? Happier but more fearful about the future, I think?
  2. b) thinner or fatter? Fatter. Which kind of sucks because I lost 12 pounds after I left my job. I have since gained it back. But I kind of hate this question because I just do. I am scowling at it.
  3. c) richer or poorer? I am skipping this question because math.

This is a question I don’t care to answer anymore, I think. Are these really the benchmarks by which I want to measure the year? No, no I don’t think so. MORE SCOWLING.

  • What do you wish you’d done more of?

Writing. (Always.) Submitting my work for publication. Figuring out a better time management system.

  • What do you wish you’d done less of?

Worrying. Yelling. Procrastinating. Writing poor-quality apocalyptic poetry. Wasting time on my phone. Feeling too hot or too cold; that’s really annoying when the house maintains a stable temperature.

  • How did you spend Christmas?

Here at home, with my husband and Carla, and my husband’s parents. It was lovely and fun. Also lovely and fun was adding my sister and niece the day after Christmas, but that amped up the freneticism by several degrees. How does adding ONE additional child to the mix make things exponentially more crazy?

  • Did you fall in love in 2016?

Ugh. Every year this one makes me gag a little, but I definitely fell more in love with my husband. He has been supportive of me and my dreams in a way that shatters me. I hope I make him feel even half as loved and understood and… seen as he makes me feel.

And, as we allow the tears to dry a bit, I fall newly in love with Carla with each new stage in her life. Three has been challenging, but it has also been utterly delightful as she becomes more independent and imaginative and curious and affectionate and funny and fun and inquisitive. I just adore her.

  • What was your favorite (new) TV program?

What a year for TV! Standouts from the year include the OJ Simpson mini-series, The Night Of, Westward, and the Gilmore Girls revival (even though I hated GG as much as I loved it – many flaws, no?). I also loved the latest seasons of The Americans, The Great British Baking Competition, Shark Tank, Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, The Middle, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. What can I say? I like feel-good shows to balance out the gritty stuff slash real life. Oh! And two series my husband and I watched and loved that were new to us this year were Master of None and Catastrophe. God, I love TV.

  • Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I can’t even. This question has got to go.

  • What was the best book you read?

I READ SO MANY BOOKS THIS YEAR! Contenders for best book include A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, The Round House by Louise Erdrich, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, and A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin. There have been others, but those are the standouts. For me, all had great stories with interesting, well-rounded characters, and truly beautiful language that enriched the story without getting in the way. Then sometime in November I fell into a Sue Grafton wormhole and have been reading my way through her Kinsey Millhone series (again) because it’s fun.

  • What did you want and get?

A chance to write a book. More time with my daughter. More time to exercise. More time in general, I guess. Less stress. And also this gorgeous green coat from Boden that unfortunately didn’t fit so BOO to that. My hips are not British enough, it seems. Oh! And I got the sheet music for Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2, and have been painstakingly picking out the right hand notes. That’s really all I’ve managed.

  • What did you want and not get?

A finished first draft of my manuscript because I am SLOW.

  • What was your favorite film of this year?

Let’s see. My husband and I took a break from watching TV to watch all of the Daniel Craig James Bond movies. That was fun, but I wasn’t as… enamored of the most recent (last?) film as I was of the earlier ones. (To be fair, Daniel Craig seemed less enamored of it as well.) Did I watch anything else? Of the (many) kids’ movies I’ve seen this year, Brave is my favorite, followed by Wall-E and then probably a tie between Tangled and Frozen. I did not care for Zootopia, and Robin Hood – a childhood favorite – sadly did not live up to my memory version. (Robin Hood himself is still by far the foxiest cartoon I’ve ever encountered, though. No pun intended.)

EDITED TO ADD: My husband and I watched Sicario just last night, right under the 2016 wire, and it was really well done. Dark and disturbing but a heart-thumping, thought provoking film.

  • What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 35 this year, and I can’t really remember what I did. Which is a pattern at least a few years running, so I am getting rid of this question.

  • What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Same as every year (don’t I ever PROGRESS as a person?!?!):

Being able to just LET GO and not freak out about EVERYTHING.

  • How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2016?

Same as last year: I have full-on embraced the leggings-as-pants “style” that I used to disdain. COMFORT IS KEY. In your face, Past Me!

Also, this year I started doing Fabletics (I joined Fabletics? I am not sure of the proper verbiage here. It’s just a subscription service in the vein of Stitch Fix. Sort of. Third cousins.), and so have added some very cute workout ensembles to my wardrobe, which means that sometimes I switch up my leggings with legging-like yoga pants. You can spot the difference because I wear tennis shoes with the yoga pants version.

  • What kept you sane?

My husband. Exercise. Being able to write every day most days.

  • Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I adore Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan of Catastrophe. The characters they play are adorable and funny and in-your-face in a way I find charming. Sterling K. Brown. Constance Wu (her and her character as Jessica Huang on Fresh Off the Boat) because she seems fearless and take-no-prisoners and also is hilarious and beautiful and talented. Kelly Bishop as Emily Gilmore. Okay, so maybe these are primarily TV CHARACTERS and not necessarily the actors themselves but whatever.

  • What political issue stirred you the most?

Nope. NOPE. Not even going to. CUT.

  • Who did you miss?

Same as last year, although – shocker – blogging more frequently myself has helped a teeny bit: I guess I most missed the bloggers I used to interact with regularly, back when I blogged frequently and they blogged frequently. I suppose I should figure out a way to do Twitter (which makes me uncomfortable for some reason).

  • Who was the best new person you met?

As last year, I don’t know that I met many new people this year. AM A HERMIT. Oh wait, that’s not true. I have made a couple of (tentative strides toward making) mom friends through Carla’s new school.

  • Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.

Write it down, don’t write it right, for the love of all that is holey.

  • Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

(I don’t know if the following makes sense as a lyric or as the answer to this question, but it’s in my head, so I’m going with it.)

Don’t you give up, nah nah nah / Never give up, nah nah nah / Let me love you.

Happy New Year, Internet! I hope 2017 goes a hell of a lot better than we fear!

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Perhaps you are looking for some last-minute Christmas gifts? Or maybe you just like reading about what other people enjoy. In either case, here are some things that I am loving lately (and just to be clear, I am not getting ANYTHING in return for recommending any of these; I either bought them myself or received them as gifts):

Chef’n ZipStrip Herb Zipper

1-herb-zipper

Photo from surlatable.com

Okay, I didn’t realize this had such a ridiculous name. But it’s awesome. I got a bunch for people as stocking stuffers last year – including myself – and I use it ALL the time. It’s on sale for $6.36 at Sur La Table, if you have any people who like to cook on your Christmas list. 

Anthurium Plant

 

2-anthurium

Photo from homedepot.com

This summer, I was looking for a red lamp to add to my new office and I could not for the life of me find one I liked. But I DID find a really pretty plant with red leaf-like flowers (in a red ceramic pot) at my local Home Depot. I know, a plant does not have the same functionality as a lamp. But if you think of the lamp as more of an accessory, you will see how the plant fit the bill. ANYWAY. It is an anthurium plant, which seems to be a type of orchid. And it’s super easy to care for: I just put a few ice cubes in it each Monday and it remains lovely and shiny all week long. If you have someone in your life who isn’t great at caring for plants but who loves them AND has easy access to ice cubes, this could be the perfect gift. Okay, I am giving the Home Depot site the side-eye because I did NOT pay $32.99 for my anthurium. I can’t imagine paying any more than $15 for it. Maybe $20. I kind of want to dig through my old receipts just to prove it. Perhaps it is seasonally more expensive. If so, it would make an excellent Christmas in July gift.

Kung Fu Girl Riesling

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Photo from kvintners.com

Riesling is my favorite type of white wine. My mantra used to be, the sweeter, the better. But my palate might be changing or maturing or something (unlikely) and I have gravitated to drier wines of late. Kung Fu Girl is my current go-to. It’s probably what I would call semi-dry, so there is a hint of sweetness there. But it’s crisp and clean and also, bonus, I can usually find it for $10.99 at my local grocery store. I’ve also seen it at World Market, if you have one near you.

Lands’ End Shimmer Down Long Coat

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Photo from landsend.com

We live in an area of the country whose winters include snow and cold temperatures. And I happen to possess the variety of child who loves snow more than anything in life. So last year, my husband bought me a down coat from Lands’ End.  It was longer than I wanted it to be – it came all the way down to the tops of my boots (also from Lands’ End). And I felt like a marshmallow. BUT. It is AMAZING. I can be wearing a t-shirt-weight shirt and jeans, and as long as I have that coat on, I feel NOTHING. I can play in the snow with Carla for hours (or until her face is red and I have to drag her inside). I can even lie down in the snow and make snow angels and feel NOTHING. It’s truly the best. And Lands’ End has really good sales on a regular basis. It’s a bit pricy at $199, but if you get a code for 40% off, you’re looking at a much more reasonable $119 for a really great, really warm coat. Oh. I just now “got” why it’s called “Shimmer Down.” I say “got” because you CAN make a pun on “simmer down” just because the coat is made of down doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

UGG Tasman Genuine Shearling Gloves

5-ugg-gloves

Photo from amazon.com

Speaking of warm, these gloves are the softest, fuzziest, warmest gloves ever. Obviously, you can’t text with them on or anything. But I find they are perfect for driving before your car’s heater has kicked in. Or for, you know, being outside in general. They are pricey, at $140, but I looooooove mine so I think they might be worth it.

Bedford Cottage Eskimo Throw

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Photo from bedfordcottage.com

Perhaps you can tell that it is only 15 degrees here, based on these last three items. Well, I am in love with this faux fur throw, which is currently draped over my legs. It’s super soft and warm, but I also love it because it looks like it belongs on a chaise longue in some fancy catalog and makes me feel like the type of person you might refer to as “stylish” and “put together” and less like the type of person whose living room has seventy five Amazon boxes stacked in one corner and a bright blue toddler-height table with red, green, and yellow chairs in another corner and a giant bear from Costco behind the couch and the detritus of a Doc McStuffins vet station scattered across the hearth and pieces of a menorah puzzle strewn like tiny land mines about the carpet. You can buy it via the link above for $149, which I did not; I got it as a gift. But it’s possibly that you could find it elsewhere for less.

Cuisinart CPK-17 PerfecTemp 1.7-Liter Stainless Steel Cordless Electric Kettle

 

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Photo from amazon.com

I drink tea every day, and this water boiler has made it very very very simple. Just fill and press a button. And there are all sorts of temperature variations, so you can set it to the proper temperature for green tea… or black tea… or oolong… or whatever.  My husband – a coffee drinker – uses it too; on weekend for pour-over coffee. I really like that it maintains a specific temperature, too – just in case a toddler suddenly urgently needs you to come help her find proper socks. It cost $73?!?! Sheesh. That seems… excessive. Although it DOES do a nice job. And I really have no concept for how much these things do/should cost. 

Carole Hochman Ladies’ 3 Pair Ribbed Lounge Sock

 

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Photo from costco.com

I grabbed a three-pack of these socks at Costco the last time we were there (what’s a trip to Costco without grabbing something that you simultaneously NEED URGENTLY and also had no idea you needed/didn’t need at all?) and they are sooooo soft and warm and cozy. They don’t look like much from the picture, but they are cushy and plush and I love them. Also: $5.99.

Laura Mercier Hand Crème Sampler

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Photo from amazon.com

Well, crud. I see this is either $51 through Amazon or not available. My husband got it for me last Christmas, and it was a PERFECT stocking stuffer. I wash my hands a bajillion times a day, so they get very dry. And there’s nothing less appealing than that powdery feeling of dry skin – well, I suppose cracked and bleeding finger webs are less appealing. I think it was, at one point, around $30 at Nordstrom. (And, keeping in mind that each of us is comfortable paying certain amounts for certain things and not for others, I find that $30 seems just on the high side of reasonable while $51 has me shaking my head emphatically NO.) I have just in the past month squeezed the very last glob of lotion from the very last sample and I would enjoy getting this again and again each year. Also, if you don’t want to gift someone ALL of the little lotions, you could certainly open up the box and give one sample to multiple people. Including, perhaps, yourself. Of course, all this is MOOT because it No Longer Exists. But I’m sure there are many other good hand lotion sets in the world.

Scrivener

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Photo from literatureandlatte.com

This may be a bit of a niche idea, but as a (would-be/trying-to-be/hopes-to-be) writer, I use this every single day. I never thought that I would like a writing platform more than I do plain old Microsoft Word. But I LOVE Scrivener. It’s very intuitive and user friendly AND it has a very simple tutorial on how to use it, just in case. It makes putting together your novel (or screenplay, I imagine) very simple. No more scrolling down in a long document, or opening multiple documents. You just create a new chapter or chapter-part inside an outline, and then you can move parts and pieces around with the flick of your mouse, OR read your entire manuscript in one flowing document. Plus, it allows you to assign (and customize) keywords to each bit of text, from which characters show up to things you need to research to plot points and dates – which you can then use to help you organize the manuscript in different ways, like, you can see at one glance every chapter featuring your villain. It’s fabulous and it’s only $45 and I love it so. If only it could do the writing for me…

Matymats Grippy Yoga Socks and Stargoods Yoga Gloves 

Photos from amazon.com

I have newly taken on yoga as part of my at-home exercise routine. Which means I have newly discovered that my feet and palms sweat when I do yoga. What can I say. The body is a mysterious wonderland. These socks and gloves help A LOT. No more sliding around while I’m trying to do downward facing dog or a triangle pose or other horrific contortion of limbs that my body is clearly not meant to perform. Both are about $15, but both come with multiple pairs of socks/gloves, which means I can match them to my sports bra. (No.)

 

Good luck with any last-minute shopping you are doing!

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Let’s just put it out there: I am not adjusting well to Carla being in preschool.

This is not, as everyone assumes, because I miss her horribly and it’s hard to spend time without her. Don’t get me wrong, I DO miss her horribly and it IS hard to spend time without her, but those things aren’t any worse than they used to be – in fact, they are much BETTER. After all, she was in daycare from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm pretty much every day from four months old on. She spends LESS time at preschool which means we get much more time together.

What I am adjusting to, in descending order of Level of Stressiness, are 1) Dealing with Teachers, 2) Dealing with the School Schedule (otherwise known as Trying to Find Time to Get Anything Done During the Day), and 3) Helping Carla Adjust to Preschool.

Let’s take them in reverse order, shall we?

3) Helping Carla Adjust to Preschool

Carla is an adaptable, easy-going kiddo. But that doesn’t mean that change is EASY for her. Like, she happily goes to this new school with its new schedule and its whole new set of rules and dozens of brand-new people… but it’s not like her being HAPPY and ENJOYING HERSELF erase the stress that accompanies adjusting to all those things, you know? And, even though we are eight weeks in or so, I think she IS still adjusting. There were more obvious (to me) stress signs in the first few weeks, and those have largely lessened or disappeared. But I still think she’s in a transition period, rather than having fully settled into the new environment and routine.

Aside from the energy is takes to fret about whether your child is stressed, just the normal practice of preschool is new and exhausting. It takes a surprising amount of energy to preview the school day each night before bed and each morning before school, to keep track of whether she’s having gym or music on which day, to remind her to bring her library book back to school and to help her keep her excitement and energy under control when she’s at school, which is – wonderfully – exciting and stimulating and fun.

So trying to help her deal with new expectations and rules and schedules is occupying a big chunk of time, and I spend many hours feeling the normal fears that I am a horrible parent for putting her in this new situation and wondering if this is the RIGHT place for her, and did we make a mistake by moving her out of the previous school, and would she have done better if we’d held off until kindergarten blah blah yada yada second guessing blech.

We have Carla enrolled in a great school. My husband and I really believe that this will be a good learning environment for Carla. (Although we are open to changing that mindset if it turns out that it is NOT a good fit.) Nonetheless, it has been A Whole New Experience and we are all still a bit unsettled.

I think that PART of what feeds this lengthy adjustment period is that we still haven’t developed a RHYTHM. And part of the reason for that is the school schedule. Which brings me right to…

2) Dealing with the School Schedule (otherwise known as Trying to Find Time to Get Anything Done During the Day)

In particular, I am having a hard time adjusting to our new schedule. It feels like School Related Stuff takes up ENORMOUS amounts of time.

I imagine every seasoned mom who is reading this right now is wearing that head-tilted expression of bemused sympathy. Because one of my (our?) biggest struggles is the school schedule. We’ve already had three days off from school just this month… and next week the school is closed for a day and a half. She’s OFF for 20% of the school month! Okay, so it doesn’t sound like THAT much time not in class, but it FEELS like it.And it’s very hard to feel settled in a routine when you might have only three or four days of school in a week, you know?

On top of the no-school days, we are all adjusting to the overall new schedule – which is very different from her five-days-a-week, seven-to-eight-hours-a-day daycare schedule. Now, Carla goes to school “full-time” (about six hours a day) four days a week, and for two hours one day a week.

There are also optional but important (I think?) things that eat up time, like meetings with Carla’s teachers (obviously important) or phone calls from her teachers with various updates (head bonk, sad morning, proud words, etc.) and parent association events and coffees with other parents. I really and truly want to make some new friends and to build a nice network of people who have kids Carla’s age in Carla’s school… but it takes TIME.

Side note: I know that it no longer applies, and that I’m very FORTUNATE that it no longer applies, and I’m GRATEFUL, but man: how would I be managing this if I still worked full time?

When I left my job this past spring, my husband and I were very clear that I was going to make WRITING my full-time occupation. Which went swimmingly for many months, enough so that I developed a schedule and wrote a big chunk of a novel and then discovered it wasn’t working and then began (and now have a bigger chunk of!) another completely separate novel. This has been my literal lifelong dream, and we are in a rare pocket of time wherein it is feasible for me to undertake this don’t-get-me-wrong-I-know-it’s-the-height-of-self-indulgence-and-luxury project, and so I am damned if I am going to squander this opportunity.

But now that Carla is in preschool, I am now trying to squeeze what once fit neatly into about 37 hours into 26 hours. I constantly feel rushed and frantic, is what I’m saying.

Part of the stress, I think, is related to my transition from Working Mom to Stay at Home Mom. Which is really like switching careers, you know? It’s a whole different set of tasks and priorities and concerns. It requires a whole different mindset and skill set. I now have the wonderful luxury of handling those things that I couldn’t easily handle while working: having the plumber over to look at a leaky faucet, or running my husband’s new watch back to the store to exchange it, or taking Carla to the doctor for a flu shot, or running to the store mid-week to pick up more bananas. I am at home, and so doing laundry is more convenient; cleaning the oven; scrubbing the grout. But all of those things also take time. And yes, while it’s great to be able to do them, it still feels like I’m stealing from the time I should be devoting to writing. This career shift has not been simple, is what I’m saying. And the accompanying new expectations and challenges result in stress.

But all of it pales, I think, in comparison to my number one major school stress, which is Dealing with Teachers.

Let me be VERY CLEAR that Carla’s teachers are amazing and I adore them. They are kind and relaxed and friendly and accommodating. They are EXCELLENT at communicating. They clearly love Carla and see her for all of her wonderful unique assets. If they weren’t my child’s teachers, I would totally want to be friends with them.

But man, they would never want to be friends with ME because I have somehow become this high maintenance, flaky, ridiculous mom! Okay, truth time: maybe I was all those things before, and just didn’t really notice. Now, I feel like Carla and I are ALWAYS late. And I completely forgot her “homework” assignment recently, even though her teachers are super up front about what she needs to do and when, AND they give plenty of advance notice. The other day I was late to pick up Carla from school – I just somehow FORGOT what time I was supposed to get her, despite having to pick her up At The Same Time Every Day (except that one day each week when it’s different). I mean, what the hell?

Also, and I feel kind of dumb saying this, but: Carla’s teachers are so clearly experts at dealing with kids. They have all this special positive, simple, clear language and terminology that they use to talk to their students. And it really highlights, for me, that I say, “Don’t do that” a LOT and that I’m doing way more correcting than redirecting. It’s a good lesson, but a hard one for my ego, you know?

There are also all the new uncertainties that come with new situations. For instance, for a while there, I was really unsure about what to do when a teacher and I were both interacting with Carla simultaneously. Do I defer to the teacher? I mean, we’re on her turf. I don’t want to say or do or suggest something that wouldn’t be appropriate in terms of classroom rules/style/tradition. I resolved this by asking what the protocol was (am genius), so there’s one teeny little point in my favor. But the answer was that the teacher defers to ME, and that makes me uncomfortable: all my “don’t do that” crap parenting techniques that get nary a twitch out of my child are on display for the teachers to judge or pity.

Plus, there seem to be School Expectations that I’m just not aware of, or clear on. Like, I came a few minutes early (literally FIFTEEN minutes early) to get Carla for an appointment, and the receptionist yelled at me! For not signing her out! Which I didn’t know was a thing I had to do! (Don’t get me wrong, I’m GLAD it’s a thing, and that the receptionist is so eagle-eyed.) But it’s just an example of these invisible rules that are spiderwebbed all over everything. And there’s no obvious way for me to ask for clarity. I really want a MANUAL, you know? One that spells out, this is exactly what we the teachers expect you to do and say every step of the way on every occasion. I am good at following rules! (Unless it’s about being on time to school or remembering my child’s day for show and share GAH.) I just need to know what they ARE!

It’s the old desperation to please authority figures, I guess. I just want to be the easy parent, but instead I’m frazzled and forgetful. I send them emails that I read, later, that say NOTHING REMOTELY CLOSE to what I was trying to say. And then when they misunderstand my INTENDED COMMUNICATION (read: not what I actually communicated), I have to ask for changes and they must think I am CRAZY. Or an idiot. Or a crazy idiot.

And I get so nervous and wound up when we have parent/teacher meetings – I feel like I’ve been called to the principal’s office. So when I should be advocating for Carla, I am instead worried that I’m doing the wrong thing or inconveniencing them or making a bad impression. I EVEN STARTED TO CRY ONCE, FOR PETE’S SAKE. So now I am the crazy idiot flaky hysterical mom.

UGH. It is the worst. Even though I realize it is unlikely as bad as I think – and even though Carla’s teachers remain kind and friendly and helpful as ever – I feel like I’m being evaluated and coming up short every time.

The worst thing of all, I think, is that I really REALLY don’t want my stress and discomfort to be impacting Carla or her experience at school. She is super perceptive, so I know I can’t fully hide anything from her. But I really hope I’m disguising my Issues enough that it’s not amplifying her own stresses. And I really hope that she is on the last leg of the Transitional Period, and that the new school will start to feel known and comfortable – soon.

UGH. Preschool. Who knew it would be so HARD (for me)?

What I want to have is reassurance: that I’m not the only one who stresses about these ridiculous things. That all these stresses are likely magnified by the horrific political environment. That it’s probably not as bad as I think it is. That it will get better. For me but DEFINITELY for Carla.

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  • I recently had an epiphany: While I really enjoy being active – walking, even on a treadmill – I really dislike exercising. I’m fine if the exercise is inherent in the activity, but I don’t like to purposefully encourage sweating and ragged breathing. Eh. Know thyself, right?
  • Carla is starting to lose the last remaining baby vernacular. She can now say “computer” correctly, rather than calling it a “com-POO-tuh” like a tiny Austrian. I am holding on very tightly to “lellow” instead of “yellow” and “collection” instead of “reflection.”
  • My in-laws donated a Crate and Barrel outdoor loveseat to us. It’s teak and sturdy and fits neatly on our back porch. But there’s no cushion and I cannot for the life of me find a cushion for it. The sizing is weird – leave it to Crate and Barrel to have custom sizes, right? – so none of the standard bench or loveseat cushions at Home Depot or Target or Bed Bath & Beyond will fit. Then I looked at Crate and Barrel for a replacement – they were having a sale – and the appropriate cushion would cost $500. On sale. I know we all have different categories of things we are willing to spend serious money on, and it turns out that an outdoor loveseat cushion is not one of mine.
  • I have made a career change, and I am LOVING it. I feel like I should acknowledge it here, but I don’t want to go into detail right now. So. That’s all.
  • My niece’s first birthday is next month, and I have no idea what to get her. Her parents always get Carla fun educational toys, so I suspect they might enjoy getting one of those… but they also live in a tiny apartment and I don’t want to send them anything that requires too much space. Clothes are out: not only does my niece get ALL of Carla’s hand-me-downs, but she also has the same grandmother that Carla does, which means she gets her own beautiful collection of clothing.
  • I just finished the third (and so far final) Cormoran Strike book by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling). I found all of them thoroughly enjoyable, but now I’m looking for the Next Great Mystery Series to start. I like Sue Grafton and Tana French and Kate Atkinson and Sophie Hannah. But I haven’t really found any other series that have the kind of writing and characters and types of crimes that I like.
  • So in the meantime, I have finally begun A Little Life, because I’ve heard it’s a life-changing work of fiction. But I’m very apprehensive about it, because I’ve heard that it’s devastating.
  • We have lived in this house for nearly five years, and we are FINALLY getting to finish the office. We’ve re-organized the furniture and gotten rid of a bunch of junk and now just need to clean out the closet (old computers and cellphones dating back to COLLEGE and assorted other tangentially-office-related detritus) and put up artwork. We’re keeping an eye out for coupons at Michael’s, so we can finally frame my husband’s degrees, and we’ll hang those as well (my mom framed my college degree; I don’t think I ever got a physical diploma from my grad school, seeing as I absconded to Europe instead of attending my graduation ceremony).
  • Speaking of junk: we had inherited three mattresses and two bedframes from my in-laws that we finally got rid of. Alongside a massive, defunct television set, a DVD player, and some other piece of stereo equipment that is no longer compatible with modern TVs. I felt TERRIBLE sending these things off to the junk guy, but our local Goodwill had no interest and I am not holding a garage sale.
  • Carla and I planted a bunch of seeds last week. We used one of those big seed starter kits and I let her pick out a bunch of vegetable seeds. We had fun poking holes in the seed starter stuff and dropping in a seed at a time. (I was stunned when I asked her what she wanted to plant next and she said “cilantro” because I don’t recall teaching her what cilantro is.) Most of the veggies are already sprouting (which seems a little creepy to me – it’s been A WEEK) and Carla is So Excited. The first sprouts that appeared were the green beans we planted, and so she is CONVINCED that we are growing a beanstalk to rival Jack’s. I keep trying to manage her expectations but…
  • This seems worth remarking on: I had been saving, on my DVR, the final episode of House since it aired in 2012. I never watched it, because I don’t like things ending. (We still have the Parks & Rec finale, unwatched, on the DVR as well.) But we were running out of space on the DVR (wonder why?) so I finally deleted it. If I haven’t watched it in four years, it is unlikely I ever will.

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*** Before You Read: Be warned. This post makes me sound like a spoiled, whiny, self-pitying brat. Plus, it’s not particularly well-written. (OH THE IRONY.) So if you are uninterested in joining my poorly-rendered and VERY long-winded pity party, please come back tomorrow for your regularly scheduled frivolity. ***


While I’m not sure if it’s my impending 30th birthday (it happens FRIDAY, ya’ll), or just a general sense of winter-induced blues, I’ve been feeling very anxious about My Life Path lately.

A full-on existential crisis been brewing for a few months now. Probably ever since my husband – with his usual effortless grace – turned 30.

I think it really came to a head recently, when I interviewed an applicant to my alma mater.

As expected, this applicant blew me away. But as I doubt I’m supposed to discuss these interviews, I’ll hurry ahead to something about our conversation that’s been kicking around my skull for weeks.

This applicant had a life motto. (Based on an Albert Einstein quote about miracles, if you want to look it up.) Bright-eyed, brilliant, and more mature than most 18-year-olds, the applicant asked me if I had a motto.

And I was stumped. (I honestly think I’m just as nervous as – if not more nervous than – the applicants in these interviews.) Something tickled at the edges of my brain, but I couldn’t get to it through the fog of nerves and trying to be the kind of ideal ambassador my university would want me to be.

The thing is, as this high school senior stared at me expectantly, I felt small. And inadequate. And fraudulent.

As though, perhaps, my whole life was some sort of farce.

Now, as much as I’d like to blame a high schooler for my problems, this barrage of upset was not the applicant’s fault.

Obviously, I have Deep-Seated Issues that simply bubbled to the surface in the face of this person. This person who is, for all intents and purposes, Me of the Past.

(Actually, she’s Me of the Past Now with Super Extras! including More Experience! and Better Grades! and Fluency in a Foreign  Language!)

The thing is, I am nearly 30. I am eight years out of college. (EIGHT. GACK.)

And when I look at my life, I see failure.

 

* * *

 

When you’re a bright-eyed teenager, 30 seems so old.

Everything will happen by age 30, you think.  (And yes, I know that when you are a kid, you pick some arbitrary age out of the air that has no basis in reality.)

But 30 seems like a milestone. One that I’ll meet in a few days without having Achieved Something Big.

 

* * *

 

Objectively, I know I haven’t “failed.” I found my life partner. I do work that challenges me. I help support our household, financially and emotionally and kitchen-ally. I have a bachelor’s degree from a prestigious university under my belt. I’ve earned a Master’s Degree from one of the top programs in my field. I like to think that I am a generally kind, helpful person.

These aren’t the ONLY markers of success, certainly. (In fact, I think “success” and “failure” mean different things to almost everyone.) But I think it would be hard for people to look at me and categorically say, “You are a failure.”

But the thing is, I have had one goal my entire life.

And I’m not anywhere near reaching that goal.

 

* * *

 

Have you ever felt as though you were simply treading water?

I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing.

Maybe you even LIKE treading water.

After all, it’s good exercise. It keeps you from drowning. It allows you to look around the pool for hot lifeguards and sharks. It gives you a chance to watch the Michael Phelpses around you and get a sense of their skills and style.

But despite all of those benefits… You’re still treading water.

Which means you’re going nowhere.

 

* * *

 

I feel the need to clarify something: I don’t do my work half-assed.

On average, I work six days a week. When I’m absorbed in a project for a client, it consumes me. I think about it all the time, even in my off hours. I’m fully invested in the project’s success. I give 100%.

But I’ve been feeling lately – as this milestone birthday approaches – that I’m not doing what I’m meant to do.

My Something Big – the one thing I’ve wanted to accomplish for as long as I remember – is to write books.

Books of poetry. Books of fiction.

Books that wrap people up. Books that transport you. Books that open up a common subject in a fresh yet utterly familiar way.

Books that – above all else – make you feel something.

Yes, I write for a living. But I’m not writing for myself.

 

* * *

 

Listen, I don’t want to seem ungrateful. I feel truly thankful to a) have steady work and b) do work I truly LOVE.

I have amazing clients. They are brilliant, driven, inventive. Each of them has a vision of how to improve others’ lives. They are all generous with their knowledge. They challenge me and inspire me.

I am very, very fortunate.

 

* * *

 

Once I got away from the terrifying college applicant, I was able to think clearly. And I realized that I do have a motto.

I don’t think I’ve ever consciously thought of it that way – in terms of a motto – but there it is.

It’s a quote attributed to Socrates, sometimes translated as: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

This phrase comes from Plato’s Apology, from a section also stating that the best thing a person can do is to converse about virtue on a daily basis.

But I think, like many famous quotes, the meaning of the excerpt itself has expanded beyond its original context.

I do a lot of navel gazing. A lot a lot. This website is proof of it.

I do it in other ways, too. My work, for instance, requires me to gaze at others’ navels… To imagine what they are thinking… What moves them… What worries them… What drives them to improve themselves… What incites them to buy.

But – while the stuff I write here is often (okay, mainly) frivolous and silly, and the stuff I write for work is persuasive and motivational – I also write about what I consider Deeper Matters.

Love. Loss. Happiness. Fear. Life. Death.

I think about these things a lot. In isolation. As related to one another. As two sides of a single coin.

It’s important, I think, to take a deeper look at these things that drive us… that affect our decisions and our lifestyles and our life’s work… that hiss and sputter deep down in each of our cells… that make up the core of what we call humanity.

To examine these things, hold them up to the light. To gain a deeper, fuller understanding of ourselves and each other. To use what we find to better ourselves and improve the lives of others.

This is what I love about my favorite books. The Count of Monte Cristo. The History of Love. Incendiary. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The Namesake. Love in the Time of Cholera. The Time Traveler’s Wife. The Handmaid’s Tale.

They examine life. They put a chunk of The Human Condition under the microscope. And in doing so, they illuminate something in a new way. When I read them, I find myself overcome with agreement: “Yes, that is how I feel. Yes, I recognize that in myself. Yes, I could never put that into words before.”

Sure, I could go through life without these things. I could work each day, come home, watch TV, eat, sleep, and someday die. I could refuse to delve into the shadowy corners of my mind. I could bob along on the surface, basking in the sun, ignoring what’s swimming in the depths.

It’s possible that I could get a great deal of enjoyment out of living this way. I would probably experience a lot less worry, a lot less angst.

But that’s an unexamined life. And to me, it’s not worth it.

 

* * *

 

Let us delve briefly into the existential part of this crisis.

Right now, my work is personally and financially fulfilling.

But it’s not satisfying my soul.

I’m not saving lives. I’m not moving us closer to world peace. I’m not feeding the hungry or housing the homeless. Or doing – in my work – any of the other countless things that seem to Give Life Purpose.

And guess what?

Writing novels does none of those things either.

Yes, yes, examining life blah blah blah.

Maybe you’d say Nabokov or Melville or Foer made your life better. Maybe even helped give your life meaning.

But come on. When it comes to Making the World a Better Place, I don’t think novelists are at the top of the list.

And let’s face it: I’m no Nabokov or Melville or Foer.

Sometimes I feel like my purpose in life has no real value.

 

* * *

 

For Christmas, a friend gave me a book.

It turns out that this book was written by a classmate of mine. I didn’t know him very well, but I knew of him.

Instead of feeling grateful to my friend for sending me the book, or being impressed that this book had been written by a person I know, I became consumed with jealousy.

Isn’t that the ugliest of all emotions?

And yet, there I was, hating on this guy for Making It when I haven’t. I couldn’t even read the stupid book because I kept having sour thoughts about the quality of the writing. Justified? Maybe. But maybe just the product of my envy.

There’s a little voice in my head that thinks I lost some sort of competition. “What have you been doing all these years when you could have been writing a book?” it demands. “What are you waiting for?”

But there’s another little voice – one that’s fearful and strident – that says, “But I can’t just drop everything and write! I’ve got responsibilities!”

 

* * *

 

“Writers write.”

Instead of whining about this on my blog, shouldn’t I be writing my book in my spare time?

Something is better than nothing, right?

The fact is, I DO write in my spare time. I contribute a paragraph here, a line there to the two “novels” I have started.

I devote even more time to thinking about them… Dwelling inside the minds of the characters… Turning over plot points and motivations in my brain.

But it’s not enough to be called Real Writing.

I write every day for work. As much as I enjoy it, it drains me.

Sure, I can dash off a silly little blog post. (Although some of them, admittedly – and I feel sort of pathetic telling you this – take weeks of tweaking until I deem them “publishable.”) (I KNOW.)

But the kind of writing I want to do requires immense amounts of emotional and creative and intellectual energy.

At the end of the day, I just don’t have that kind of energy to spare.

And if I do… well, I feel like I should devote it to the kind of writing that pays the bills.

 

* * *

 

One of the other big causes of my existential crisis is money.

It’s difficult to contemplate the huge financial burden Writing a Book would put on my husband and me.

Now, my parents have been super generous about this. They have offered to help. More than help, really. Which means more to me than you can possibly imagine. I mean, not just the relief about money… But the incredible gratitude I feel that they BELIEVE in me.

Plus, there’s my husband. Who said to me the other day, “My goal is to make enough money so that you can stop working and write.” Which made me all teary. What have I done to deserve such kindness?

Seriously, I wouldn’t blame you if you are rolling your eyes right out of your head. How can I be fretting about ANYTHING when I have such an amazing family who supports me so fully?

But with their generosity comes guilt.

How could I possibly take my parents or my husband up on their offers?

It seems selfish… and irresponsible, somehow, to allow them to bear the weight of my flight of fancy.

I mean, what if it turns out I am a terrible writer? What if I can never publish a book? What if it’s just a big waste of time and money?

What if I disappoint these people who love me so much?

 

* * *

 

The thing is, I have no idea if I can write a book.

And, if I can, who knows if I can make it be what I want it to be?

What makes me think I have anything to offer people?

What makes me think I can differentiate myself from all those other millions of authors out there?

What makes me think anyone – editors, publishers, let alone the reading public – will want to read what I have to say?

Oh the doubt! Internet, it is eating me alive!

And yet, I am so sure this is what I’m supposed to do…

(Of course, if you’ve ever seen American Idol, you know that all the applicants are so sure that singing is what they are meant to do. Even the ones who sound like lovesick seagulls.)

What if my writing sounds like a lovesick seagull?

 

* * *

 

Of course, the flip side of the coin is:

What if I disappoint these people who love me so much?

Because if I don’t write a book… If I don’t at least give it the old college try… Isn’t that the real failure?

If I let my fear and doubt and sense of familial and financial responsibility prevent me from even trying to accomplish that goal, well, what kind of person does that make me?

A fraud.

And then I’m right back where I started: Staring into the clear, expectant eyes of an eighteen-year-old, telling her that my alma mater is the place where dreams begin… And yet I haven’t moved more than a few thousand words toward my heart’s desire.

 

* * *

 

When I told my mother, a few weeks ago, about this existential crisis, she was full of kind words and wisdom.

When I look at my mom, I see a woman who has accomplished anything and everything she wanted. She had a successful, high-powered career for decades. When it stopped fulfilling her, she retired.

She raised two kids who – not to toot my horn or anything – are on the whole Good People.

She dedicates a large portion of her time and money and expertise to helping people in need.

She’s traveled the world.

She’s also extremely artistic, and prolific in her painting and writing.

I admire her so much. So when she talked me through my crisis, I listened. And her take on the situation helped.

My sense of crisis hasn’t fully subsided.

Sure, I no longer feel constantly on the precipice of tears…

But I still feel… incomplete. Stuck in some liminal space between Fanciful Child and Responsible Adult. Left to tread water for the foreseeable future.

Still, I’m beginning to learn how to live with that. To remember that 30 is an arbitrary finish line set up by a naïve teenager. (A teenager who was certain – CERTAIN – that she’d never in a million years get married or even entertain the IDEA of having kids.)

My mom reminded me that even if I’m treading water, I’m learning. I’m growing. I’m gathering fodder for my writing. And all that is useful and worth something.

Plus, I’m getting something out of this. Maybe I’m not working toward my goal. But I’m challenging my brain. I’m working with people I respect. I’m learning how to be a better, more persuasive write. I’m contributing to my family. I’m supporting my husband as he works toward his Something Big.

Not too shabby, for a nearly-30-year-old.

Maybe this isn’t the only thing the universe has planned for me. Maybe I’m not doing exactly what I’m meant to do.

But – god willing – there’s still time.

 

* * *

 

I recently read a quote attributed to theologian Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who are alive.”

In moments… bits and pieces scraped up in times of quiet… small bursts of inspiration… I feel that Aliveness, bubbling inside me… It may be hibernating, but it’s there, breathing quietly, just below the surface.

Three decades is a long time to wait to join the ranks of the living.

I hope it doesn’t take me another 30 years to get there.

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