#LoveForLeslieJ

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I was going to write something today about the campaign of hatred unleashed on Leslie Jones yesterday, about how she bravely tried to fight against it until she just couldn’t any longer, about how deeply I understand and feel her pain, but this piece says everything I was thinking much more eloquently than I ever could.  #LoveForLeslieJ

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/19/leslie-jones-twitter-abuse-deliberate-campaign-hate

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Mindful Moment – A Domestic Disaster

Structure is not my strong suit.  Since I was a kid, I’ve kind of run around like a chicken with her head cut off, flitting from one project to the next, getting easily overwhelmed, filled with frantic energy, rarely finishing what I start.  I learned after I became an adult that there is a word for that frantic energy – anxiety.  Getting diagnosed and learning through therapy how to live with anxiety has been invaluable.

We’re always taught to finish what we start – your room isn’t really clean until your closets are organized and every speck of dirt has been wiped away, do all of your homework, even if you’re up until the wee hours of the morning.  I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with any of those things, it’s just that my brain doesn’t work this way.  I only know two speeds – 0 or 100.  I look at a sink full of dirty dishes and think screw it, I’ll wash them tomorrow, or I get frantic and scrub all the dishes, clean out the cabinets, mop all the floors, clean all the bathrooms, do 10 loads of laundry, vacuum…well you get the picture…then I’m exhausted and do nothing for the next two weeks.

Now, I give myself a set amount of time to clean, or tackle any other project I don’t particularly enjoy.  If the project isn’t done by the time the allotted time is over, it will be there tomorrow.  Before diving into housework,  I give myself time to transition from work mode to wife mode.  Me time.  It’s what keeps me sane.  I take the dog for a long walk, or write.  Sometimes I read or wander around Target, or just do some deep breathing.  I allot time to be social, so I can make sure to maintain the friendships I value so much, and of course couple time for me and the hubby.  I’m much happier and much more at peace, knowing that somehow I’m learning to manage my life.   I can do it all, I just can’t do it all at once.

On another note, I hope to follow this same philosophy when I tackle NaNoWriMo next month.  The regularity of my blogging with slow down, but I’ll still be here, hopefully updating you on my progress.  I’d love to hear about your experiences if you’re participating as well.

Character Study – The Female Killer

This may not come as a surprise if you read my blog, but I find women who commit crime…interesting.  Much more interesting than their male counterparts.   I don’t idolize these women at all.  I have compassion for their victims.  I’m thankful that they are behind bars where they can’t hurt anyone else.  But learning about the ways in which these women go about planning their crimes, and using those details to create a fictional character, can be quite consuming.

Women never stop thinking.  Even when we’re sleeping.  I’ve woken up from a dream and jotted down an idea for a story or novel on the pad next to my bed.  So many times, I’ve been sitting in the car with my husband, gazing out the window, daydreaming, planning stories, thinking about my family, books I want to read, books I’ve already read, my dreams for the future, regrets of the past, and inevitably, he’ll ask me, “What are you thinking?”  I’ll sigh and say, oh just wondering how my mom is doing, which is true, but just a drop in the bucket.   It’s what makes us so amazing, but also can make us dangerous, depending on how we choose to use our talents.

I’m a bit of a true crime junkie, and no matter how many crime documentaries I watch, the ones about female killers always surprise me.  The mom who calls a hit man to plan a romantic rival’s murder while she’s watching her son’s Little League game, the housewife who serves her husband dinner with a sparkling smile, knowing she stirred antifreeze into his mashed potatoes.  The teenage mean girl who aces her algebra test before violently ambushing a frenemy in the school parking lot.  The mom who goes downstairs and routinely prepares breakfast for her children, knowing her husband is upstairs with a bullet in his chest, secretly planning her manufactured screams and frantic 911 call when she “discovers” the body.

But, statistically speaking, women are much less likely to murder than men.  The rarity of female killers seems to explain the public’s fascination with them.  Mass killers tend to be overwhelmingly male.  And in 2011, 90.5% of ALL murders were committed by males.  So, likely there’s no need to send those mashed potatoes your wife just put down in front of you to a lab to be tested, or wonder if the woman seated next to you at your child’s baseball game is really on the phone with a hit man.  She’s probably just talking to a friend, or a work colleague, getting a few work calls out of the way while she has a moment to sit down away from the husband and kids.  Or is she?

The Herbivore and the Carnivore – A Love Story

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Me and hubby before we were married.

When I met my future husband, I was a twentysomething, exercise-averse, meat and potatoes and candy-eating girl.  Now, seven years after our wedding, I’m a thirtysomething, fitness-loving, vegetarian, but still candy-eating, woman.  He’s still a meat and potatoes guy, but we have a meat-free home.  I can’t stand the smell or texture of meat anymore.  I have a friend who doesn’t eat meat any longer but still cooks meat for her husband every night.  I don’t know how she handles it.

Hubby goes out and gets take out for himself when he has a craving for meat, and he orders it sometimes when we go out for dinner, but when I cook at home it’s always a vegetarian meal.  So that brings me to the questions – if you’re a single veggie, do you only date other veggies?  If you’re in a relationship and your partner is not a veggie, if you do most of the cooking, do you prepare meat at times to appease your mate?  If you eat meat, how would you feel if your partner became vegetarian?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Myth of the Respectable Woman

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No respectable woman would behave that way!

How many times have I heard someone, usually a man, make that remark, usually referencing a woman who had the audacity to be imperfect?   In their minds, a woman should be honorable, intelligent, well-educated, feminine, a great cook and homemaker, a devoted wife and giving mom, healthy and athletic, but curvy and sensual and able to able to put away a hearty meal, one that she cooked of course, vulnerable and fragile whenever it suits a man’s ego, but also strong, independent, ambitious and career-oriented.  Anything less, and she can be expect to be labeled a poor role model and bad example, an embarrassment.  If you are able to be all these things everyday of your life – you have my adoration and undying respect.  But, I realized a long time ago I was never going to be all of those things at once to everyone, and I’m perfectly okay with that.  In fact, I’m overjoyed.

Usually men who make comments like this have a very twisted view of what womanhood actually is. Women are either playthings to be used and discarded at their discretion or paragons of virtue and respectability.  They’re pigs.  Do we really want these men dictating how women should behave?  It’s absurd.  Besides, it’s okay to be flawed.  I love creating female characters who are complex and multi-dimensional, who have secrets and dark pasts, who make mistakes.

When I was younger, I sometimes felt an immense pressure to be respectable.  I judged myself so harshly.  When relationships failed, I blamed myself 100%.  I wasn’t enough.   Not gifted enough in the kitchen, not skinny enough, not smart enough or ambitious enough.  Not respectable enough.  Now I’m much easier on myself.  I know that failure is a part of the learning process of life.  I also know my value as a woman is not linked to my ability to hold on to a man, as some would have you believe.  I am enough.

Some days I eat salad for lunch, make it to the gym after work, then go home and cook a cozy dinner for two, others I duck home early, order greasy take out and watch bad television.  I’ve put more emphasis on being healthy and strong than skinny.  I strive to be a great wife, but other days I miss the mark there too.  I’m not a mom yet, and I’m fine with becoming one on my timetable, not the world’s.  I’m not where I’d like to be in my professional life, but I’ll get there.  I found out just being me, and the journey of figuring out exactly who I am without judging myself or caring if anyone is judging me, is a lot more fun.

Aggressively Uncool – 10/5/15

Unlike my timid teenaged self, now I am brashly, aggressively, uncool and loving it.  My top three uncool-est moments below.

1.  My husband offered to take me to any restaurant I would like for my anniversary dinner last night.  Due to the torrential rain, my sleepiness, my intense craving for pancakes and coffee, and my desire not to change out of my sweats, I picked the local IHOP.  Those pancakes are bae!
2.  As we arrived at said IHOP, I spotted a middle-aged couple making out in broad moonlight in the parking lot.  As we left IHOP, they were still making out.  I yelled “get a room” out of the window and tried to speed off, but my car hit a speed bump so we put-putted away on a wobbling tire.
3.  A friend and I decided to climb Arabia Mountain to see the sunset from its peak.  A glorious sight.  But then we forgot our way down, the sun abandoned us and we got lost.  I had to call 911.  They sent fire, police, and a helicopter to search for us.  I stood on top of the mountain waving my tablet with its rapidly dying battery so they could find us.  Did I mention an old, super-cool acquaintance from my teen years is the fire captain and she was leading the rescue effort?  Humiliation!  But we laughed about it later.

Have fun this week!  Be quirky, be happy, be you!

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Ode to a Playground.”

This is so funny because my brother and I were just discussing our childhood home.   Our parents sold it about 15 years ago and moved on to greener pastures, but my brother decided to pull it up on google maps a few days ago and sent me the link.  It looks strange to have unfamiliar cars parked in the driveway, to see the yard and landscaping my father cared for meticulously appear a bit unkempt, but more than anything it felt strange that it wasn’t my home anymore.  I lived there for over 20 years.  Since I was an infant.  My brother came home from the hospital to that house.  I took my first steps there.  Learned to read.  Lost my first tooth.

Staring at the picture, I looked wistfully at the tress standing tall from the backyard, towering regally over the roof.  The same trees I played hide and go seek behind, that my dad used to hang hammocks and tents between so we could play make believe games.  The same trees my mom used to mark first base when we she taught us how to play baseball.  I see the porch where I said goodbye to the first boy I ever loved.  The driveway my brother sped into triumphantly after he got his driver’s license.  The puppy that found her way to our front door and decided we were her family.  So many memories.  The happy ones more than make up for the sad.

Whomever is living there now, I hope they have children.  And I hope that every once and a while, they put the video games and tablets down and venture outside into the sun and fresh air and play games, the same old-fashioned ones we used to play.

Three Questions with Ted Heller

Pocket Kings by Ted Heller is a dark, but sometimes very funny, story about an author, Frank W. Dixon, who is desperate to be great, truly great, at just one thing.  In the midst of being completely ignored by his literary agent and watching less-talented writers achieve undeserved success, he gets lost in the world of online poker, which causes him to lose nearly everything.

Last week, Heller was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions about writing and publishing.

Dealing with the publishing world, and all of the soul-crushing rejection that comes with it, nearly destroyed Frank in Pocket Kings.  What advice do you have for aspiring writers on handling rejection?  Besides punching their literary agents in the face.    (That’s my second favorite part in the book by the way.  Don’t worry, I won’t give away the ending.)

I would love to know what your FAVORITE part of the book is.

I know I’m supposed to be encouraging and tell people who get rejected to keep at it, don’t give up, never give up, but I don’t even know if that’s practical or even healthy advice. It’s like telling someone they should eat more Twinkies. I’m not sure of the exact numbers but for me, for every book I write that gets published I think I have two or three that did not. That’s not a good batting average when you realize how long it takes to write a book, how deeply you get connected to the book and how much of yourself you put into it, time-wise and emotionally. I’ve never taught a writing class but if I did I’m sure that in the very first class I would tell my students: I hope you’re here not because you want to get published, because you probably won’t be, but you’re here because you love to write and read.

One thing though. Eventually you do get sort of numbed to rejection. I use to spiral into deep, weird, perhaps even overly dramatic depressions when I got rejected. Keep in mind, like Frank, I also tried writing plays and screenplays as well as novels and short stories. Now if I get rejected I merely bum out for a few days or for two weeks and consider never writing again. After I self-published West of Babylon I did not write a word for months. It took a lot out of me, Only now am I writing again and I cannot stop!

You opted to self-publish West of Babylon, your latest book.  What was the most successful avenue you used in promoting it?

I can’t say I OPTED to self-publish it. No publisher wanted to publish it, so it was either self-publish or stash it away under my bed with the rest of the books I wrote that won’t ever see the light of day. I thought that since Pocket Kings got great reviews I should NOT forget about West of Babylon. In other words, I had to strike while the iron was lukewarm. I had no idea how to go about the process, none at all, but fortunately for me my agent and his assistant took care of everything. They were new to it too so it was kind of like an experiment. There were all sorts of issues that I’d never thought about —trim size of the pages, margins, measurements of the cover— and they handled that. My wife is a very talented graphic designer so she did the cover. Basically, we put the show on in our barn.

But that’s where the fun ended. Promoting the book, spreading the word, was, to put it mildly, a NIGHTMARE. I spent months out of my life trying to obtain email addresses of newspapers, magazines, blogs, websites, etc., and then sending each one an individualized email telling them about the book and attaching the good reviews for my published novels. I’d say that 90% of the time I got no reply. I repeat: no reply. A “We are not interested in you at all,” would have been very welcome at that point. You learn who your friends aren’t very quickly. Some people were no help. However, I did go on Twitter and through Twitter was able to get a few reviews. So that worked out for me. Also Goodreads. I actually sent emails to all the people who’d reviewed Slab Rat, Funnymen, and Pocket Kings and let them know I had a new book out, otherwise they would have no idea. All of this —getting the email addresses, Tweeting, sending out queries, sending the book out via FedEx or email, messages to people on Goodreads— it was an all-day thing and went on for months. I don’t think I would self-publish again. Yet I am midway through a new book and thinking: “Okay, nobody will want to publish this, I will not self-publish ever again…is this just going under the bed with all the rest of them?”

Of your four published novels, do you have a favorite, or is there something special about each?

Hmm. Which is my favorite? As I only have one child I can’t say “that’s like asking me to pick my favorite kid.” Without question, Funnymen is the funniest book I’ve ever written (or that anyone else has either) so I do have a soft spot for that one, plus no faux oral biography had ever been written before (that I’m aware of). I like the plot of Slab Rat, my first novel, and have a soft spot for that one, too, because after years and years of trying to get published, I finally did get published. Pocket Kings I like because it’s the most autobiographical of my books and because it’s a very angry novel, yet also is strangely full of hope. (The narrator never goes give up, even after he gives up.) And I like West of Babylon because it’s about music that I love and was a very sweet book, something I’d never written before.

In addition to Pocket Kings and West of Babylon, Ted Heller is also the author of Slab Rat and Funnymen.  Find him on Amazon and Goodreads

Mindful Moment – Pause

My therapist has asked me to try and practice mindfulness as a way to reduce anxiety.  It’s a way of focusing just on what you’re doing at that moment – eating, showering, relaxing, whatever – instead of letting your mind race and worry about the million other things you need to do.  I was in need of a break a few minutes ago, but still couldn’t turn my mind off, so I decided to write down everything I was hearing and seeing to reduce my stress.  It seemed to work.  Here are my stream of consciousness ramblings:

I hear the sound of an insect, maybe a cricket, chirping in the distance.  The sun is out.  I hear the gentle rush of cars on the nearby road.  The bright pink flowers on the bushes stir gently, bowing to their fallen petals.  I am alone, but not alone.  Quiet and waiting for the tightness in my chest to ease. I have to focus, and the pressure on my brain will release.  Focus, focus.  Let life go for a few minutes.  All that exists are wind, flowers, crickets, and sun.  I want to live.

A bird calls, as though it wants me to answer.  There is no response.  Maybe it wants a mate, or is searching for its lost flock.  I’ll send up a prayer for it.  One for the lost bird.  One for me.  Now I’m ready.  Press play.