Gotta Catch ’em All

Summer has gotten out of hand. Trying to balance all the things that need to be done with all of Toby’s summer school responsibilities and my school work has made everything into a short, sharp series of vignettes. It’s time to do this now, okay after that it’s time to do this!

The one thing that has made everything more bearable is PokemonGo. My son loves Pokemon, we’ve been catching them all on Netflix for at least the last two years if not longer. Ash Ketchum, the protagonist, is 10 years old, a perfect role model for Toby. Honestly, the kid is a great role model. He is kind to animals (Pokemon but you get it), he has a never give up attitude, he always shows good sportsmanship whether he wins or loses, and he always gives other kids a chance to be friends.

Toby loves video games, and sometimes getting him interested in leaving the house is a challenge. PokemonGo has been a great way to entice him out to take walks. I let him use my phone, and that of course means I play overwatch, making sure that he doesn’t head out into the street or in front of other people on the trails or wherever we end up going.

What’s even more fun is my husband is also playing along. If Toby was hard to get out of the house, Luke was impossible, so this game has managed to get everyone out and about. We’ve talked to more people in the last week than we have ever, random strangers also looking at their phones and talking about Wheedles and Pidgeys.

In the past week I’ve spent more time with my friend Allie than I have in months. I’ve played a game with Toby, teaching him to pass turns and such. I’ve learned more about Pokemon than I think was possible. I’ve also walked miles of my city’s prettiest parks.

What gets me is how this game has brought my family together. Nights in the past were spent on individual devices, with the TV on in the background as we all zoned out and ignored it. I hated what was happening but I could not find a way to engage my husband and son. I appreciate that video games are their thing and not mine, but it was getting silly. Now we’re talking about Pokemon nights and making plans to go out to the parks two or three times a week.

This by itself has made my summer much better.

I am also writing my stories and books. I am working on publishing a short story through our press, Barely Salvageable. We have Hot Mess Volume 2 in the works. I’m also writing a story to try to get published through another publisher, but that’s more of a ‘let’s cross our fingers and hope’ situation. I haven’t forgotten about my novel, by the way. It’s just moving at a slower pace because I’m learning more about my writing process and that’s taking time.

I wish summer was more of a, ‘sit down and write’ time for me, but being a mother and a student and a wife, summer is more like the crazy-go-round that you can’t step off. It’s like the holidays, except that it’s three months long. So it just becomes a matter of dive in and swim, because there’s nothing else you can do.

The Curve

I have written this post three times, trying to communicate what I want to say. I’ve rarely had such a challenge with a blog post. So, I’ll say it up front: This post is about the the good from the bad and bad from the good.

For example, over Memorial Day weekend my family needed to go to a funeral. My husband’s step-mom’s mom passed, and while it was sad, it wasn’t unexpected. The family took it well, and had a few weeks between event and memorial to manage their grief.

With that in mind, the weekend went splendidly. My son managed to stay still through a Catholic service, which earned him a medal of honor of a sort. We were proud of him for not melting down. If you’ve never sat through a Catholic service, you may not be aware of the long, strange rituals filled with archaic terms and repetitions. Catholicism takes its rituals very seriously, rarely updating their cannon to be accessible. I remember being a young girl sitting through a Catholic Mass with my grandmother. I got into trouble because I followed her up to take Communion. (I wanted the cracker.) I got into trouble because I didn’t understand what the cracker meant, and the symbolism behind it. To me it was just a cracker. To them, it’s the Body of Christ.

Ritual is soothing to many, and the Catholics faith is nothing if not stable. To a child, there are few things more exasperating than being forced to be quiet and listen to unfamiliar chants for an hour. Toby twisted and turned, flopped and flipped, but he was quiet, and he kept mostly to just his seat. When you’re a child with ADHD, that is a testament to self-control.

What’s more, Toby’s teacher has praised him the last two days because he’s been more focused on his work. When compared to the funeral, going to school just doesn’t seem that terrible anymore. This isn’t simple supposition. This is what my kid has told me when I asked him what caused him to behave better. Apparently the experience of the service showed him that were in fact worse things than school. I didn’t imagine something good coming out of sitting through a Catholic funeral. It seems as though allowing Toby to experience first hand this tough thing had the unexpected benefit of giving him something for comparison.

This is going to stay with me. I am a protective mother, I admit it. I often try to protect Toby from experiences I think he won’t like. I see now that what I’m doing is narrowing his field of experience, which isn’t teaching him anything. I’m not going to throw him out into the street and expect him to fend for himself, but it definitely is an argument for trying things for other reasons than just suiting my son’s tastes.

Not long after we got back, I got into an online conversation with a girlfriend of mine who is also attending school. She is beginning to see the downside of being as talented as she is. My girlfriend is marvelous, she’s got a good head on her shoulders and has a business sense that is getting her far with her teachers at her school. Quite recently she endured some thinly veiled teasing that made her feel awkward and uncomfortable. It made her quite upset.

I chimed in with solidarity in the online conversation, but mentally I turned this over in my mind. I realized why she was so upset. In part, it was because being the best in the class is supposed to be a good thing. There aren’t supposed to be any downsides to earning the highest place through hard work and talent. She had worked hard to get where she was, so why wasn’t she appreciated?

I never thought about it. People don’t warn you that being at the top has downsides. Everyone wants to get to the top so bad, I’m not sure anyone would listen if they did. When you make it to the top, however, those who want to be where you are have no incentive to treat you with respect. They will do everything in their power to shake you loose, and not lose a night of sleep doing it. It made me sad to realize this was something that would happen. After all, good things should be all good, right?

Everything in life is a little bit good and a little bit bad. Some things are very good, some things are very bad, but typically there isn’t much that you can’t find a little bit of the other. When it’s good, though, we expect it to be all good, all the time, with no interruptions. Why wouldn’t we?

Both of these lessons were worth learning, and have given me a lot to think about. I’m a fan of trying to make things as simple as possible to keep them efficient, but recently I’ve learned that efficiency may not be the most useful human trait. Sometimes we have to remember that it’s more complicated than we think it is.

 

Tornado Hallway

I didn’t grow up in Tornado Alley, but I did grow up in a tornado hallway. I’ve lost track of how many funnel clouds I’ve seen threaten my subdivision when I was growing up. The skies would turn black. Not the open black of night, but oppressive, thick black cloud cover that cuts the sky out and replaces it with aggression. There’s a taste in the back of your throat like dust and ozone. Once a funnel forms, your eyes are locked, waiting to see if the clouds will kiss the ground and try to drag it back up to the sky.

After a while, though, living under the constant threat of sky strafing, you get inured to it. I mean, it’s a natural disaster that no one controls, not some human threat, after all. There is no objective, just barometric pressure and wild winds. You know to listen for tornado warnings, and you find low spots for safety if you’re out in the weather, but otherwise it’s nothing more than an insurance claim waiting to strike.

I find this experience has prepared me for life as a non-traditional student. There are days that go by where things are almost peaceful, but then my son will need a doctor’s appointment or my spring break doesn’t coincide with my son’s so I need to be in the first week of school and to have someone watch him while I’m in class. My date nights have gone from once a month to once a quarter. Homework dominates every aspect of my life. I’ve pared my social time back to the quick. Writing? Forget it. I can dash off a blog post but anything more demanding is relegated to least priority.

Why did I do it? Honestly, I do it because it satisfies a host of requirements for my life going forward. I did it to be a better writer. I did it to become an editor. I did it to have a four-year degree under my belt so I qualify for a job more complex than to bring fries to a table. I’m not dissing on anyone’s job; I simply am fed up with being a customer service muppet. For my sanity I require that I am more employable, even if I don’t plan on working for a major corporation.

I’ve done some very awesome things in the last two months. I went to Vegas for the first time in my life, with several girlfriends who are awesome, supportive, and hilarious. I went to NorWesCon and learned a lot about myself as an author, and how to further my career going forward. I have submitted another story to the Tokyo Yakuza crew per their request. I have even managed to overhaul my next novel and set it on a firmer path.

The silver lining to the funnel clouds above is this: I am handling it. My grades are great, my kid is doing fine in school, and my husband is gallivanting and being his social self. The most important pieces of my life are in order. There is a lot of sacrifice, and its being borne up by significantly less time with my friends. I’ve left people wondering if I’m still their friend anymore, which pains me. I appreciate everyone who is putting up with this major change. I put my social life above everything else for a large portion of my life. Not doing so is weird.

The funnel is high above the earth right now, and I can spare a glance out at the world for a moment. Knowing that it’s going to take years to make my goal brings more clouds and more wind. The truth is, that the funnels will never completely disappear. The point is to keep going despite them, and not let them distract you from your goals.

Service Announcement

Recently my friend Allie Drennan launched a website, http://barelysalvageable.com. It’s dedicated to building community for aspiring authors. It’s also where we show off our work and keep people informed of our newest novels. You can sign up for our newsletter as well, and get a free copy of the ebook The Corsican, my debut novel. Please check out http://barelysalvageable.com and tell me what you think!

Return

Sunrise

Well, I’m back.

First, thank you for all of you who enjoyed my microfiction experiment. I’m definitely doing more microfiction in the future. However, it takes a lot even to create a little fiction short like I was, and coming up with many tiny ideas proved to be a lot more work than expected. It’s kind of like getting a kitten. No one ever imagines how much energy and time a tiny warm ball of fuzz is going to take up, until you get one.

And I was getting a kitten a week.

Finally I had to accept that if I was going to put out bigger pieces of fiction, I had to set aside my diversion. It would be nice to say that I could just turn 180 degrees from a short piece to a long piece, but each piece takes up a slice of consciousness, and they all dig in equally as hard. That’s why I haven’t been blogging for weeks now. I just could not bring myself to produce.

Wonderful things have been happening beyond the blogosphere, however. I have found myself in a small, elite cadre of women writers, and we are critiquing each other’s work. Having found an echo chamber, let me tell you how priceless it is. I have been in four local writer’s groups, and each one was more dismal than the last. One almost seemed like a fit, but at the end of the day, I am an elitist snob and they weren’t up to my unreasonable standards.

Now, I’m surrounded by like minded, brutal, hungry writers, and I’m loving it. They challenge me, they provide me with awesome, useful feedback, and we all share what we’ve learned about the industry.

The most validating moment for this month happened after this month’s writing group meeting. A gentleman came out for a cigarette. The space we’d overtaken was apparently the smoke break area for several nearby restaurants. We tried to give him space while still enjoying the last lingering moments of our group session. When we started our goodbyes, the guy introduced himself as Sam Hill. We all had our laughs, which he was good-natured about. He then admitted he was a writer too. He told us he thought we had some really great ideas that he found helpful even as he eavesdropped. Our group had it’s first follower. It was magic.

I’ve also been duel wielding a novel and a serial, which would work better if I had more time. I’m laying fresh word count for Tin Can Sailors, and editing my rough draft of Bento Box. It’s hard to sharecrop two incredible stories, but one is for a publisher who wants my stuff done by this winter, and the other is getting bumped because it is deadline free.

I now understand how it takes George R.R. Martin so long to get a frigging book out. Of course, if I had a TV deal, I’d have more excuses to be so late, but the year isn’t over yet.

Arrested Development

When I was a kid, I had talent and was a promising young author. I won awards. I still have them.
When I was a teenager, I stopped writing. I had too much other shit to do. Becoming a person, for starters, and balancing a life I had jumped into without thinking things through; an alcoholic husband and a cross-country move later, and I was in a whole new world, where everything was shiny and dramatic.
I never completely gave it up. I played in Mushes and Muds, which were the text-based version of video games (and.. I totally dated myself.) I would start stories, get four chapters in, and twirl off to another adventure.
Do you know what happens when you don’t exercise your talent? When you take it for granted that it will always be around? It atrophies.
I had no training, no discipline, and I was writing at a high school senior grade education. (I’ve had college training, but not in English.) I was frustrated. I didn’t want to write anymore. I abandoned my talent to the wolves.
Fortunately, my talent learned how to climb up on the wolves’ backs and ride ‘em. It found a spear and howled and refused to die.
When my life swirled out of my crazy twenties and into my slightly-more-settled thirties, my talent was ready and waiting. When I opened the door to look for it, it bowled me over and took off running. There was no negotiation, no slow integration. Getting back into writing was like being flung into the sea.
I wasn’t prepared for how fast my ability grew, trying to make up for lost time. I am still in no way a polished professional, but I never wanted to be a polished professional. I want to drag people along for the ride, and have everyone enjoy themselves. I’m a writer; I don’t rise above life and watch at a distance. I experience it and share it.
I have a friend who is finding her own voice. She didn’t stop writing for as long as I did, but she’s rediscovering her inner fire, and watching that makes me smile.
I have another friend who is working on his first finished manuscript. He figured if I could do it, he could do it. He could have done it before me, but he didn’t believe it until he saw it.
My point is, it’s never too late. You can’t kill your talent through neglect, although you can atrophy it. Don’t let the fact that you haven’t done it in a while stop you. Talent, the given abilities that we possess, do not possess an expiration date. Talent is a gift, and it is given to us to be used. Talent differentiates us in a positive way. Feed it, nurture it. It is a piece of yourself, and it deserves attention.

Overpromise and Underdeliver.. wait.

Time estimation of a project is the hardest thing to do, especially if you are new to the kind of project being undertaken. It gets better as you continue forward, but there are always the unforeseen events to take you out at the knees.
For example – I started writing my short story for Anacrusis Press on Dec 15th, and it’s done as of yesterday, 02/17. Two months, but it only took me about four hours to write it. Which just tells you what editing is compared to writing.
I’m currently editing my second novel, Best Served Cold, and I don’t think it will be done until June.
I have a lot of other projects waiting in the wings that have seen no forward movement since I took on my short story in December. In the midst of all this I have a class that I’m taking, to try to improve my craft.
And you’d never believe this, but I’ve got a real life too, with wife and mother responsibilities included.
I have been neglecting my blog and my Twitter account, just because something has to give. It seems like so little in the face of the mountain, but it’s just what slips when I’m pressed to do so much.
My life changed when I got published, there is no doubt about it. I look at everything I wish I could have done first, but I also realize that none of this would have gotten jumpstarted without it. I care more about my craft than I did a year ago, and I’m writing better stuff because of it.
Interest is the most vital aspect of a person’s education. Without interest, people can try to learn a thing, but it probably won’t stick. Humans have to associate material with something they already know, if they’re going to remember. I’ve seen it so often now, it seems like it should be common knowledge, but I think it’s something that hasn’t been addressed in our culture.
I feel so driven now. I always read about characters who’d found their purpose in life, and I remember wondering what that felt like. Now I know. It’s as great as I’d read. Maybe greater, because it’s first hand.
So now I just have to get better at my judgment. I need to marshal my resources and finish up my projects before I start new ones. So far I’ve been writing down random ideas and putting them in the “For Later” folder. I’ve been trying to stay on top of it all. I’m not succeeding with grace, but I’m learning.
I might have too many irons in the fire, but at least I’m enjoying the warmth.