50

Today is my 50th birthday.

Last night I tried staying up past midnight to watch my 40’s disappear, as if being awake for the event would make it more believable.  But I fell asleep and when I awoke a whole new decade of my life had begun. 50. Half way, or maybe more than half. Do I really want to live to see 100?

My daughter has been sick with pneumonia and had to be hospitalized. Rather than getting  a massage and a manicure as I’d planned this past week, I spent several days by her hospital bed. Nothing mattered to me outside that room. On Tuesday I forced myself to go to work because I had a deadline, but I left early and rushed back to sit with her in that little room. When she was well enough to go home, I began round the clock home care, which included waking up at 3 AM to administer a dose of antibiotics. I didn’t care about sleep; I just wanted my daughter well again.

And then came my birthday.

I hadn’t wanted a party; going to the March on Washington was my party. But sleep was necessary. So on this first night of my 50’s, I am in a hotel room just a mile from my house (just in case…) so I can sleep and write and sleep some more. I used to be able to manage on 4 hours of sleep a night for months. Now, I can’t get through a day on less than 6. I must be 50.

My 40’s kicked my butt! I feel beat up and worn out and then left in the sun too long. I feel year after year of stress in my bones. Will my 50’s be more of the same?

The odd thing is I feel excited about a new decade. It feels like a new book in a series. The old book is done and now I start a new adventure. I’ve never been this age before. And I feel such freedom and relief, because I don’t care so much what other’s think. I’m not worried about making people happy or wondering if I’m doing something wrong. Other people’s opinions matter less than ever, which makes me feel strong. I know what is right for me. I still struggle and have a lot to learn to be myself, but at least I finally know who that person is.

Plus, it’s raining on my birthday. It hasn’t rained on my birthday in many years. When I was a child it rained every year and then sometime in my 20’s I realized my birthday wasn’t in Winter anymore. But today, it is cold and gray and damp, just the way I like it.

Rain is a good sign, and my daughter is getting stronger. Now to sleep and dream and regain some strength. It’s a whole new decade to explore.

Good night.

 

In my own world, writing

Blogging? What’s that. Right now I am immersed in my own, silent writing. I’m hidden away in a world I’ve created through language and ink. It takes focus and dedication to create this world, so I don’t want to wander away for even a brief moment. If I do, I might lose my way. After months of false starts and ideas, I’ve found the path through my own little forest of creativity. Writing it down is like following a candle’s flame in the distance; keep the light in sight and you won’t get lost.

Occasionally I need to trust I’ll find my way again and leave my own world. The real world with all its problems and joys grabs my attention. It’s a tricky balance: imagination and practicality. I need to stay grounded and aware of life, while at the same time protect solitude so I can write. I don’t want to tune out reality so much that I lose touch with time. But I also don’t want to get bogged down in bills and politics so much my imagination suffers. My awareness is juggling intuition. I write, therefore I am.

Because time to write is such a struggle, I tend to hang on to that state of mind with all my might. Nooooooo… I don’t want to pick up my daughter from school or return a phone call or wash another towel. I want to lock myself in my room and write. I’m a mother and a wife and a dog owner and I have a garden. I love my family, but just like all moms, I tend to give them all too much. So I cling to writing as if it’s the only thing that’s really mine.

When I’m engrossed in writing my book, I don’t blog. I know we’re “supposed” to; gotta keep building that audience and platform, the experts say. But when writing time is fleeting, it’s hard to care. I just want to write; let my readers find me on their own.

My own writing world is calling. Time to chase that candle flame again.

A third into my book I have to ask: what am I writing about?

Writing, writing, writing… wait. What am I writing? What is the point? Who am I writing this for? Why am I writing this book?

Ak!

I was doing really well for several weeks, writing every moment I had in bursts of focused energy. The first section of my book finished, six lovely chapters focused on the first few years of my daughter’s life. And then…

The focus vanished. The doubts set in.

One complaint about “special needs memoirs” is how parents take over their children’s stories and make it all about them. The child is lost under the parent’s struggle. I don’t want to fall into that trap. My daughter is the one who struggles daily with her disabilities. This is her life and I am telling her story in the hope it will help others. But am I actually including her in the storytelling, or just rehashing my own fears and triumphs?

I don’t know.

So now here I am, staring at my screen and the 100 pages I’ve already written, unsure whether or not to continue. Do I stop? Start over? Keep going? Chuck the whole book and go back to writing plays? Am I able to write the book I envision? Perhaps I don’t have the skill. But I have to try.

I’ll follow my own advice and go back to that basic question: who am I writing this for?

Answer: Parents of children with disabilities.

Why am I writing it?

Answer: Because I want to help them find joy raising their children and not be overwhelmed with grief and fear.

How will I do that?

Answer: I don’t know.

Any ideas?

 

 

This writer is tired of epic years.

As a writer, I should enjoy adventure, drama and changes. Good stories come from epic years, those years in your life when everything falls apart and is rebuilt, transformed, and reborn. Pick up any novel and there will be chapter after chapter of drama and cliffhangers.

Living an epic isn’t as much fun as writing one.

2015 was one of those years when I wondered if I actually was a character in a book. Was I up a tree having rocks thrown at me by an invisible writer? I had adventures, like going to New Orleans during Mardi Gras (talk about adventures!). I had bitter-sweet moments, such as when my daughter graduated high school in June. And there was great drama as my husband and I faced death with his cancer diagnosis. We laughed, we drank, we cried and fought and dreamed and hoped. I learned more about my self and how resilient I can be in one year than I had learned in 5.

This writer is overflowing with stories. I’d like 2016 to be a quieter year so I can write them.

From talking to friends and family, I am certainly not alone. 2015 tested everyone I know, some in just as epic ways as I. Illness, accidents, divorces and deaths happened with such frequency we’re all jittery from shock. Four people in my immediate circle of friends and family passed this year, including my own grandfather and my daughter’s grandfather. Cancer popped up in two acquaintances, and I had my own cancer scare when a tumor was removed from my forehead; Thankfully it wasn’t aggressive, but it was malignant.

I am sick of cancer and illness. I want my loved ones to be healthy this year. I want relationships to stabilize and love to grow. I want people to calm down and stop reacting in fear and anger. I want calm so we can heal from a too epic year.

Happy New Year everyone. May 2016 allow you the time to breath.

Solstice Bonfire

Bright red sparks shine like stars in the black night, rising up on waves of smoke and heat. A half smile moon looks down on the people dancing and singing around a bonfire. This is a clan of artists, bohemians, hippies, healers, millennials, elders, rich and poor, all stretching eager hands toward the brilliant heat of the bonfire. Let the warmth fill you. The darkness is diminishing.

This is my clan. After a year of sadness, fear and exhaustion, I join this gathering. In the past, I would have known everyone, but today I’m surrounded by strangers I feel I know. We all know the hosts, the dear people I call my Aunt and Uncle, although we’re not related. They are my family simply because they love me and I love them. My uncle in the plaid outfit takes my hand and commands, “Have some fun for a change!” Yes Sir.

My father dances around the bonfire in a flame red coat and crown, dressed as the Sun King. My sister takes my hand and we remember how much we love each other. The night goes on as the fire burns down, but we stay awake, waiting for the first glimpse of sunlight. The longest night will soon be over.

Happy Solstice.

The Rough Draft, or Why my first draft is supposed to be awful

Fingers flying along my keyboard, I furiously write the first draft of my new book. I’ve given myself an unrealistic deadline: New Year’s Eve.   Hiding in my room late at night when I should be sleeping, I write. As soon as I drop my daughter off at school but before my first client, I write. I forgo the gym, forget to check my email and never return phone calls. I write in a frenzy with an unrealistic deadline calling the charge. Who cares if it’s unrealistic? This is the first, rough, god-awful draft. Getting words on paper, or screen, is all that matters.

You heard me, I said god-awful rough draft. My sentences are incomplete and my thoughts scattered. Most of my scenes don’t make sense and will be cut. My characters are boring and my dialogue worse. None of it is any good. I know that, but I keep writing. It’s not supposed to be any good yet.

My first drafts are always terrible. I’m really writing a fancy outline, piecing ideas together like a puzzle, waiting until later to fill in the middle.  Mostly exposition, I write down thousands of words each day as I try to create a cohesive structure for my thoughts. If I stop and worry about making the scenes strong or the prose pretty, I’ll lose the flow of the story, the heart that keeps the story together.

I love this part of writing a book.

Once the final page is written, I’ll let it breath for a few days. Then I’ll write again, cutting and filling and shaping the chaos I’ve written. With hard work the book will turn into something other people can read. That process can take years. I hope my rough draft isn’t so awful that I have to scrap the entire thing and start again. It happens. But I won’t worry about that right now. I’ll just keep writing, writing, writing, writing…

 

Is there a difference between gratitude and happiness?

This summer, I began a 150 day happiness challenge on Facebook. Every day I would post something that made me happy. It felt important I do this because I was overwhelmed with fear and anger from my husband’s cancer. Suddenly, I was the caregiver for two medically fragile people, my husband and my daughter, and the emotional toll made getting out of bed difficult. So I started looking for things to make me happy.

Quickly, the exercise felt phony. Very little made me happy. Writing about the joy I found in my morning coffee was silly, and how many times could I write about my garden? Happiness? What was that? I was happy just to get through the day.

Then I realized that I was actually writing down things I was grateful for. Having that morning cup of coffee helped ease me out of bed, and I was grateful for that. Watching my garden grow filled me with gratitude because I could feed my family while supporting wild bees. Gratitude was the best I could do. Happiness was like chasing a mirage.

What is gratitude? To me, it is an awareness of the gifts I have in my life. The simple things, like a warm bed, health insurance and the internet. I am grateful my husband’s cancer seems to be gone and I am grateful my daughter is thriving in her new school. I am grateful for her teachers. Grateful my car is running and I can afford new tires for winter. These things don’t make me happy; they make me grateful for my life.

As the weeks went by and I forced myself to post a gratitude, an interesting shift in my awareness occurred. The more I focused on gratitude, the more I felt happiness. Where did this happiness come from? Circumstances hadn’t changed. My husband still struggled to recover and my daughter still had bad days, but she also had good ones. There were days I wanted to cry from the weight of the emotional load I constantly carried, but on that same day I’d smile watching the dog chase leaves across the back yard.

I am not in denial; things are bad. Frightening. Cancer lurks and my daughter could decline any time. Money is tight and I still don’t have job. The future is one big scary unknown and the odds aren’t in our favor.

In searching for any small, random thing I felt grateful for, I uncovered a rich source of joy. Happiness fluctuates. But gratitude is constant. WhenI feel happiness has vanished and I’m left alone fighting my battles, gratitude holds me up. I am grateful for my strong, weary body. I am grateful for love. I am grateful it rained today.

Or is there really any difference between gratitude and happiness? Can you feel one without the other?

The Writing Process – a blog tour

Thank you so much Natasha Yim for inviting me to the Writing Process Blog Tour. It’s fascinating to learn about each writer’s creative process. Click the link to Natasha’s blog and learn more about her process. Then follow the links backward for some great insights on writing.

But first, read my responses to the writing process questions.

1) What Are You Working On?

Currently I’m writing a middle grade fantasy chapter book for Goosebottom Press, but I’m sworn to secrecy on the exact subject. Let’s just say it’s about a really feisty girl with the power to change the universe. I’m also writing another play, this time set in the 1980’s. This new play is more dramatic than my previous two plays, but will still have plenty of comedy.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Writing for middle grade readers is a new adventure for me, one I’m really enjoying. After reading several middle grade books to familiarize myself with the language and nuances of the genre, I’ve learned that middle grade readers are more savvy and sophisticated than I realized. Your average 11 year old loves a scary scene. Maybe we can thank Harry Potter for that. I can’t really say how different my work is, because I’m still learning. All I know is that I love writing for this age group and hope to write more books.

Now, if you want to ask me about my plays, the number one thing that makes my work different is that I typically write more parts for women actors than men. It is a common complaint in the theater that plays seem to be written for and about men. Unfortunately there are far more actresses looking for parts than actors, so competition for good parts is horrible. I decided to do something about that. Plus, having a background in drama helps me create plays that provide theater companies what they need: parts for women and simple sets. Most of my plays take place in one setting, which means a theater company can save money on scenery design, or go full out on one set.

3) Why do you write what you do?

When I was a child, Zilpha Keatley Snyder was my favorite author. I devoured her books! When I grew up and started writing, I longed to write for that age group (middle grade) and explore some of those darker subjects. Now I’ve been given the opportunity to do so.

I started writing plays because I’m lazy. Writing description is hard for me, but dialogue is easy, so I followed my strengths and discovered I can create great stories with just people talking. And it helps me finally use my BA in drama.

4) How does your writing process work?

Typically, I start with a situation. I’ll get an idea about people in a setting and one of them wants something from the other. But at first, I don’t know who the people are. So I’ll start writing the scene, just letting the language lead the way. Suddenly, one of the characters will take center stage and her desires will become clearer. I’ll hear her voice in my head and once I have that, the plot develops. Now the real writing can start. Occasionally I might discover that the character I’m following isn’t actually the main character. A different character will take charge and the story might go a direction I didn’t imagine. How do I keep any control over this chaos of my imagination? By focusing on my original idea, that one scene that started it all. If I write too far from that original point then I know I have a new story and I have to decide to pursue it, or go back. But generally, the first image is so strong it guides me.

I don’t like too much of an outline at first; I like to follow the characters. Once I have a very clear idea of who all these people are and what they want,  I’ll plot the scenes. Ultimately, there has to be a story, not just characters interacting.

Before I even brush my teeth, I write in the morning for an hour. If I start doing anything else before I write, I won’t write at all that day. I’m also a mom and a publisher, so those two jobs take a lot of my time. If I say, “I’ll just start the laundry before I write,” I will start doing other things “for a minute before I write.” Then my writing time is gone. Let the laundry wait. Write!

The blog tour continues on June 9th with writers Shannon Drury and Kirsten Imani Kasai. Follow the links in their bios to visit their websites and next week you can read their answers to the Writing Process questions too. 

SHANNON DRURY is a writer, at-home parent, and feminist activist. She writes a regular column for the Minnesota Women’s Press and served six years as the president of Minnesota NOW. Her book, The Radical Housewife: Redefining Family Values for the 21st Century, will be published by Medusa’s Muse Press August, 2014. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.

KIRSTEN IMANI KASAI writes horror, erotica and sci-fi/fantasy. She is the author of the novels “Ice Song” and “Tattoo” (Del Rey/Random House), “Private Pleasures” (Renaissance), and “Rhapsody in Snakeskin” (Renaissance), a collection of poetry/short fiction. She is the co-founder of the horror/spec fic literary venture “Body Parts Magazine.” Her experimental prose/poetry piece, “mice,” will be published in the spring 2014 issue of Canada’s “Existere Journal.” In May 2014, she participated in a 10-day artists’ residency and festival in Romania, where she dined with the mayor of Borsec and read her locally-inspired poem “The Truth about Decay in Transilvania” in English and Romanian. She’s recently completed a poetry chapbook “The Atmospheric Mysteries of a Steaming Corpse” and is the recipient of the Anitoch Los Angeles Library Research Prize for her critical paper “Redefining Utopia: How Feminist Utopian Literature Can Serve as a Model for Creating Workable Futures.” Originally from Denver, CO, she lives in Southern California with her children and her partner. Visit her at www.IceSong.com and www.facebook.com/kirstenimanikasai.

And for fun, write your own responses and post them here as a comment, or on your own blog. I’d love to learn more about your writing. 

“Dancing with the Stars” is the greatest dance porn since “Dirty Dancing.”

Image

 

It’s a new season on Dancing With The Stars, which means I am once again obsessing over Cheryl Burke, Valentin Chmerkovsky, Mark Ballas and Karina Smirnoff. I’m watching fierce dance routines and booing the judges as if ballroom dance was a football game. The “stars” don’t matter to me (how many “reality stars” are there on TV?). I love the Pros, the dancers who train, teach, choreograph, plot and scheme their way to the mirror ball. Why do I love this world of spray tan, fake eyelashes and glitter so much? Because Dancing With The Stars is the greatest dance porn since Dirty Dancing, and I love dance porn.

I admit I’m a little embarrassed by my obsession. I’m an intellectual feminist with a Master’s Degree and a publishing company. But here I am, every tuesday morning (I don’t have cable, so I have to watch it online,) applauding Emma Slater’s creative choreography. In the middle of the night, I’m scouring Twitter for #DWTS comments. I become frustrated that I can’t vote because I’m watching it the day after, and I know exactly how it feels to have to TiVO a basketball game because you couldn’t watch it live, and then have someone tell you who won.

Dancing with the Stars is my escape from the chaotic, stressful, overly-serious world I live in. It feeds my inner child who longs to be a ballerina. When I was little, I was obsessed with ballet and longed to be a dancer more than anything in the world, but we lived in Lake County, California, far away from any dance classes. So I practiced plies’ in my room while studying a book on basic ballet positions, eventually screwing up my knees. The love of dance never left me and I was finally able to take my first class in college at the age of 19. I danced in a troupe for five years and loved every minute of it, even choreographing three productions. Later, I choreographed two shows for children. Yet again, I live in a town with limited dance opportunities, and being a mom keeps me home. I channel my longing to dance into my writing and publishing, but the desire has never left. I’m too old to be a ballerina, but I know I would be awesome at Tango. All I need is a teacher.

Every day at 4:30, I dance to electronic music on Pandora. Dancing is how I de-stress. At the end of my work day, right before I switch into my mommy day, I shake my ass as fast as I can in my kitchen. My daughter thinks I’m crazy, but sometimes she’ll join in. Occasionally, a Tango rhythm will come on and I’ll pretend that I’m dancing with Maksim Chmerkovsky (and that man can dance a tango!).

We forget to play when we grow up, and before we know it the burdens of life drag us down like quicksand. It seems we only remember to be silly when we’re on vacation, or drunk. Why not do something ridiculous every day, like Tweeting about #DWTS or dancing for 30 minutes in your kitchen? Ridiculous is good for you. Silly lightens the load. Just ask any 10 year old practicing ballet moves all alone in her room. What is better than dance to make you feel alive?