Find Your Joy

Snow_Joy__by_SweetPandemonium90

Let me tell you, it ain’t easy.

We are surrounded by anger, fear, nastiness, and negativity. It comes from all walks of life, from all political and religious affiliations, from the haves and the have nots, from those who think they’re in the right to those who fear they are always wrong.

It’s my way, or the fucking highway.

Sorry for swearing, but I’ve really had enough.

Life has become a nonstop display of one-upmanship. I mean, are we all so freaking miserable that we have nothing else to do but go around pecking at each other like a bunch of diseased chickens?

If everyone had their way, you would NEVER:

Feed your kids crap (you’re poor and ignorant and you’re ruining their precious snowflake brains)

Feed your kids organic food (you’re a liberal elitist and never let your kids have any fun)

Shop on Black Friday (You’re part of the problem. Be like me and pay full price for your Mac you vile scum)

Eat at McDonald’s (It’s not real food! Jaime Oliver says so)

Take your kid outside without a hat (Because frostbite. And fashion)

Eat food that comes from China (They sneak arsenic into everything because they are both evil and stupid)

Eat bananas (They don’t even come from this hemisphere!)

Be liberal (You’re an anti-American terrorist-worshiping elitist who hates God and kittens)

Be conservative (Because George W. Bush)

Question anything (Because you always were so bossy)

Put too many pictures of yourself having fun on Facebook (You think you’re so great)

Avoid Facebook (What? Do you think you’re better than me?)

Play video games (Seriously? The Downfall of Civilization)

Watch sports (See above)

Dress fashionably and enjoy shopping (You’re so shallow)

Not care about how you look (You’re a dirty hippie who never has any fun)

ENOUGH!!!

Here’s a tip: life is really, really, really freaking short. It will be over before you have a chance to notice how short it is.

Figure out what makes you happy. WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY?????

Your answer may NOT be one of the following:

  • Other people doing what you want them to do
  • Other people living life the way you think they should be living it
  • Other people paying attention to you
  • Other people not screwing you over
  • Other people not screwing other people over
  • Other people coming to you
  • Other people getting out of your way
  • Other people keeping neat and clean and saying nice words
  • Other people doing things that make sense to you
  • Other people saying things you agree with and understand
  • Other people not scaring you
  • Other people giving a shit about you

Here are some better options:

  • Make stuff. Create stuff.
  • Be active. Move your body.
  • Learn something.
  • Fix things. NOT people.
  • Focus only on improving yourself, NOT others.
  • Eat delicious food that makes you happy. Don’t pay any attention to what other people are eating.
  • Take pictures. Yourself. Don’t worry about the pictures other people may or may not be taking.
  • Read books. If you think they all suck, write your own.
  • Chocolate.
  • Good coffee.
  • Put on your favorite music and dance around. And don’t do it because you want someone to see you being joyous.
  • Makes lists of everything in your life that is wonderful and perfect. If you do this every day, the lists get longer and longer.
  • Watch awesome movies. Make popcorn.
  • Take naps.
  • Take baths.
  • Take walks.

When I taught eighth grade I realized that I would never have anything to complain about ever again. I had two students who brought their laundry to the school nurse because they lived in a car. I had a student who was horribly burned because his father set him and his sister on fire. I had a student who had no curfew because her mother went out partying every night. I had a student who told me that no adult ever smiled at her over the course of a day.

Get over yourselves people.

Whatever self-righteous indignation you may be holding close, tear it to pieces and flush it away.

Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder.

Be joyful. Be contagious.

A Letter to My Son Oscar

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A long time ago I used to write to you every month. Almost every month for the first three years of your life. Then things changed. Your sister was born. You turned three and then four. You started talking. We waited so long for you to talk and we worried for so long about your talking and then it came in a rush, like a monsoon storm, words spilling out of your mouth at a rate I could no longer process or contain. You flood me with your humor, your wisdom, your joy.

I am an introvert who spends her day teaching and talking and comes home to two beautiful children who want to talk, to learn, to play, and to climb all over me. It’s exhausting. I’m sorry for that, Oscar. I want nothing more than to be the best mother I can be. You deserve so much more from me.

I want to be a better teacher, a better writer, a better daughter and sister and friend. But more than anything, I want to swim around in your wonder and joy. At night, I savor the quiet and try to pull some coherent thoughts together for teaching and try to put some words down on paper. But you know what? It’s almost too quiet. I miss you. I miss the way you say, “Mom? Let me tell you something!”

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You love to draw and paint. You still love to set up elaborate train track configurations and you love to come get me to make sure I look at them. You want me to see and hear everything. You love school. When we pull into the parking lot you can’t wait to get out of the car. You run ahead, up the walkway, saying, “Let me open the door, Mom! Let me open the door!” At the grocery store you ask questions about everything, pointing and asking, “Why do they make it that way? What is that for? Can we try that some time?” You want to put everything in the cart yourself and then line everything up on the counter at the checkout. You carefully align everything on the conveyor belt and won’t let me add anything else until the conveyer belt moves.

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I know that childhood exists only as a momentary nostalgic flash in all of our lives. It is so, so brief. Someday I will no longer be able to call to memory what it was like to hold your small chin as I brush your teeth. I will no longer have to wipe the table and wash your little cup when you spill your juice, or decide you want milk instead.  I will no longer remember the sound of your voice acting out one dramatic scenario after another with your little guys (what you call your action figures: “my little guys.”). I will no longer be able to help you put on your pajamas, make your bed, cut your meat, pick out your treats, pick up your toys, buckle you into your seat.

All of these small tasks can be tedious and tiring at times, but they are like tiny sea shells and smooth stones that make up an ocean of memories. One day I will only be able to look out at the sweeping vista of the sea, acknowledge it’s existence and beauty, but no longer feel the wet stand between my toes. You will be in your ship, sailing out to meet the rest of your life, leaving me behind.

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I want you to know, for the rest of your life, that you are a gift. You are the gift that life gave me. I’m so lucky! How in the world did I end up the mother of such a boy? You are so curious, funny, intelligent, and interested in everything around you. It is so, so easy to make you happy. All you want is to play with me, to put honey on your toast, to help me cook. You remind me that life is supposed to be fun and interesting. You remind me to use my indoor voice. You remind me that love is all that matters, even when it means messy floors and sticky fingers and exhausted moms.

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I love you, Oscar.

Love, Mama.

National Nobodies Writing What?

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It’s National Novel Writing Month

This is an annual event in which people are encouraged to write 50,000 words in a month. It is tremendous fun and the community that has built up around it is amazing. Millions participate. The discussion forums are filled with writers at all hours of the day and night discussing everything from the intricacies of characterization and plotting, to tips and tricks for motivating the muse.

Did I mention that it’s a community? Did I mention that it’s fun?

I try to participate every year. The most I’ve ever managed to write is 28,000 words. Last year I wrote 1,167 words on the first day and never wrote again after that. Life got in the way, like it always does.

Sometime this summer, when I started getting NaNoWriMo emails again, I debated even thinking about participating. There are pros and cons to participating. It is, after all, in November. The Worst Possible Month Ever. There many naysayers, among the people I know, and among actual writers.

Some people I know say I’m too busy, or I have kids, or papers to grade, or scholarship to publish, or whatever. I get made fun of for various reasons. “Well, if you have time to write a novel…”

“Real writers” don’t like NaNoWriMo at all. They don’t like the idea of the rabble getting their grimy hands all over Art and Literature.

The Naysayers say that the poor literary agents and junior editors are inundated with crap on December 1st because the participants are apparently too stupid to either revise their novels or submit them properly. However I’ve discussed with this agents and editors I follow on Twitter and they say they don’t get more submissions than usual after NaNoWriMo.

The Naysayers say that real novels are longer than 50,000 words. While it’s true true that most novels average 60,000-120,000 words in length, most people I know who write a novel during NaNoWriMo either write more than 50,000 words the first time around, or they revise their first draft and add much more after NaNoWriMo.

But just for the sake of argument, here are some novels that are 50,000 words or less:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (46,333 words)
  • The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (52,000 words)
  • The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (50,776 words)
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (50,061 words)
  • Lost Horizon by James Hilton
  • Shattered by Dean Koontz
  • Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
  • The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells
  • As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (56,695 words)

Finally, the Naysayers say that NaNoWriMo produces bad writers. Really? Really? Since when does writing make you a bad writer? One of the things that I struggle with as a writer and writing teacher is convincing people that the only way to get better at writing is to write, and to write a Shit Ton.

I read one snarky blog recently in which the writer said, “How would you feel if it were National Symphony Writing Month? Write a symphony in a month! Well, it can’t be done, and I hate the fact that people think anyone can write a novel.”

OK, let me rain on the parade of the Delicate Genius. Sorry, but anyone can write a novel. And also? Anyone can write a symphony. Sure, it takes skill. Tremendous skill. And it take practice. But musicians don’t sit around writing symphonies. They do scales. They practice pieces. For hours and hours and hours and days and months and years. Good writers do the same thing.

People worry that writing 50,000 words in a month produces bad writing. I actually used to think this was the case myself, and I think it’s something that has held me back from finishing. However, once I actually started writing I came to realize that my real problem has been writing too slow, not writing too fast.

I tend to need a warm-up period, in which my writing comes out creaky and slow and pretty bad. This can go on for as much as 1,000-2,000 words. So if I’m only writing 500-1000 words each day, my usual pace, I never break past that point, and I’m chronically dissatisfied with my writing.

This time around I began writing furiously fast right from the beginning, my word count climbing at an alarmingly fast rate. I noticed something happens around 1,500-2,000 words. My writing gets better. Sometimes it even gets pretty good. I’ve written a few startling paragraphs that have blown me away. I believe I’ve taken my writing to a new level.

Another thing is that I’ve never written every day, for so many consecutive days in a row. I’m hoping to carry this habit into December and beyond. In fact, I’ve created a writing chain, and I don’t plan on breaking it.

I take comfort from knowing that Water for Elephants and The Night Circus are two examples critically acclaimed, best-selling novels written during NaNoWriMo. They also happen to be two of my favorite novels.

For people who think I should be using my time more productively, I would tell you two things. The first is that this is not time I would normally be using to do real work, or socializing with neglected friends and family members, or being a better mother. This is time that would normally be spent surfing the internet or watching television.

The other thing is that I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember. I clearly remember being seven and wanting to be a writer. Writing is fully and completely part of who I am. Everyone who knows me well knows this about me. It’s a dream. A dream. If you don’t think I should be grabbing at it with every fiber of my being, I’m not sure I want to know you.

Finally, the real reason I started writing with a vengeance this time around is that my characters, the ones who have been living inside my head for a long time, showed up at my door one night carrying pitchforks and demanding to be set free.

So I write. And write. And write. I’m at 19,055/50,000 words. I’m supposed to have around 11,000 as of today. So you can see that it’s going quite well. So far. Knock on 1,000 planks of wood. I actually anticipate my novel coming in at around 70,000-90,000 words for the first draft.

I will no longer be posting word count updates to Twitter and Facebook, but I will put a word count widget here in the sidebar of my blog, and I will also post updates here from time to time letting you know how it’s going.

Ten Foods I Won’t Eat

In honor of the all of the posts I’m seeing around Facebook about foods that the “experts” won’t eat, I’ve decided to make my own post.

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1. Bacon

Just kidding. I love bacon.

2. Pepsi

Who drinks this? Coke is it! OK, I’ll drink it if you offer me one or if I’m at a restaurant that only serves Pepsi. I’m not going without soda!

3. Any food that expires the day I’m eating it.

That would be wrong.

4. Leftovers that “look funny.”

Especially when my other option is ordering a pizza.

5. Cold french fries.

Luckily they usually don’t last long enough to get cold.

6. Those weird orange and black candies you get at Halloween.

Because they were last manufactured in 1957.

7. Mayonnaise on hamburgers.

I like mayo on most things, but on hamburgers? That’s disgusting.

8. Canned peas.

However, I love canned corn, canned tomatoes, and canned Spaghetti-Os.

9. Soggy bread.

Ewwwww.

10. Iceberg Lettuce

Unless it has ranch dressing on it. Or if it’s on a hamburger. Or a taco.

The Worth of Words

I’ve always lived in the borderlands. No place to call home. I am not a mother. I am not an academic. I am not a woman. I am not rich or poor. I am not a teacher. I am not a writer. I am…me. How does that find expression? Who are my soul mates? Others like me, certainly. There are many. They identify themselves to me at school, at family gatherings. Pulling me aside, quietly, secretly: “I just wanted you to know that I really like what you wrote about blah blah blah…”

It’s like water in the desert.

That’s what pulls me back to this blog. That’s what compels me to to put my pen to paper. It’s why I write and why I read. Just this morning I read a line in a book that startled me with its truth. It’s very important to remind people that there are threads connecting some of us at the deepest levels. We may not be the best teachers, students, parents, daughters, or friends; but we are the best for each other. We are there for each other beyond time and space.

A writer’s words carve their way into my soul like nothing else.

I am cleaning vomit off of my son at 3:00 A.M.. I am nursing my daughter back to sleep at dawn. I am standing at the kitchen counter wiping up crumbs, the words I long to write spilling out of my fingers and eyes and ears, lost forever to the wind because I don’t have the time or energy to create books, or stories, or articles. But they are there with me, these other women. Across time and space. Anne Lindbergh, Anne Lamott, Joan Didion, Maya Angelou, Barbara Kingsolver, Sylvia Plath, Anne Tyler, Sharon Olds, Faulkner Fox, etc. They whisper in my ear, “I know, I know.”

This is what I can give. I can tell other mothers, other writers, other women, that the journey is hard. It’s hard. But if I can give you words that you can weave into a blanket, or a life raft, or a balloon, than I have given you everything I can give.

 

 

 

 

Head Over Heels

Happy Birthday to my little footling breech baby.

Four years ago, on the morning of Friday the 13th, the doctor hoisted her knee onto the edge of my hospital bed for leverage. She placed her slim, warm hands on either side of my belly and said, “That’s his head, and that’s his butt. I’m going to turn him now. You’d better relax, because this is going to hurt.”

Twelve hours later she sliced open my belly, pulled you out by your feet, and lifted you up in the air. Your father, holding my hand, said, “It’s a boy.”

Giving birth to you was nothing like I expected. Raising you has been nothing like I expected and I’ve learned the most important lesson of all, which is that we cannot have expectations for our life or for our children. We can only hold hands as the roller coaster careens around each corner. We can look at each other, look around, push the hair out of our eyes, scream, cry, laugh, and love.

Thank you Oscar, for filling my cup overflowing. Thank you for moving and dancing through my world. Thank you for everything you have taught me in your four years on this earth. I hope you have 100 more.

I used to think I would teach you everything I know and lead you into this world. Now I know that my job is to listen to your stories, hold your hand, and follow you where ever you want to go.

I love you more every day. More than I thought it was possible to love another human being.

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Perfect Moment Monday: Big Brother

When I found out I was pregnant with Aria my biggest worry was the impact it would have on Oscar. For three and a half years, before Aria was born, Oscar was the center of our lives. He’s always been such a beautiful and funny child, getting attention wherever we go. But when Aria was born his whole world was turned upside down.

At first it was pretty traumatic for everyone. I hated leaving the house without Oscar. I hated it when I was feeding Aria and Oscar wanted me to pick him up. One day I left for an emergency dental appointment and when I returned, Oscar asked warily, “Did you bring home another baby?”

Slowly he became more and more interested and intrigued. He was constantly asking, “Where’s Aria?” and saying, “I want Aria.”

Now that she laughs and smiles at him, every day gets more fun. However, she is still pretty small, cannot sit up on her own, and we have to make sure he doesn’t play too rough with her. I can’t wait until she is big enough for them to play together.

My perfect moment came one morning when I went into Oscar’s room to wake him. I put Aria in his bed, something they both love. She lay there and played for quite awhile, so I left her there buffeted with pillows while I dressed Oscar and got him ready for the day. At one point she rolled too close to the wall and was in danger of falling between the bed and the wall (I wasn’t too worried because that space is crammed with stuffed animals). I decided I didn’t want to take any chances so I scooped her up and was about to carry her out of the room.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, Oscar burst into tears. “Please don’t take her away! Please!”

“But Oscar, she might fall and hurt herself.”

Then he sobbed, “But she’s my friend!”

Oh, man, I immediately teared up and was filled with so many emotions. Happiness, sadness, wistfulness, love. Most of all, I felt complete.

Today, Oscar said to me, “Someday when I’m big I can carry Aria and feed her.”

We have many kinds of moments ahead of us. Exhausting and overwhelming moments, funny and joyful moments, and of course, perfect moments.

For more perfect moments, visit Lori at Write Mind, Open Heart.