The In-Between

The space between two projects yawns before me like a giant mouth gaping open between canyon wallstwo steep, canyon walls.  I know I have to jump to get to the other side but the longer I wait and contemplate, the wider the abyss appears.  I feel my legs tremble at the thought of trying.  I may even retreat and begin to explore the walls behind me, endlessly editing my previous project until the old is all I can imagine. In the end what pulls me forward, what drives me to make the jump are the voices.

Clear as a lover’s whisper in my ear I hear.

“My mother caused all my angst and she’s why I don’t trust women.”

“The scene.  The Blue Coat School, Birmingham, England 1780, a boy rushes out the back entrance into the stifling alleyway.”

“She wanted to be sacrificed to the dragon. Fool.”

Snippets of stories, flash in vivid pictures.  I have to choose which voice to follow, which life is the most compelling. For it is only the most vibrant, the most compelling, the most twisted and fun story that will push me to make the leap from the comfort of project done, to the bone shaking terror of the blank page.

Some may consider me a candidate for some psych drugs and a week in a nice white room, but I know this is the path to my next character, my next project, my next alter to spill the contents of my head and heart. I’m almost there. All I need is that final push to make the leap. The piece of research, the tv show, the song that spears me forward and brings the story to life and fill the bottom of the canyon with fluffy pillows.

I need to immerse myself again in a creative bath of input, then I will be ready for the challenge.  Wish me luck. For every comment you leave the space between closes by 1.25 feet.  Please comment away!

 

Travel Nirvana

There are two kinds of travel. Only two. Travel with kids and travel without. I’m a fan of the latter. Traveling with kids is a lot like how I imagine a circus going wheels up and trekking to the next town. There’s snacks to consider, sleep schedules, encounters with wacko strangers—and then of course entertaining them during long boring car, plane, or train rides.

We had no idea what this sign meant. The bricks didn't seem any different with the "anti-climb paint" on them. We even tested it. Yes. we tested it. Something we would have not done with kids in tow.

We had no idea what this sign meant. The bricks didn’t seem any different with the “anti-climb paint” on them. We even tested it. Yes. we tested it. Something we would have not done with kids in tow.

The last two weeks my husband and I remembered what it was like to travel sans kids. We took a plane to London (a ten hour flight) and eyed each other when we’d come across some obstacle we knew our kids wouldn’t have faired well with. First it was the plane food (they would not have liked anything served), then we knew they’d never have slept well in the tiny seats, and the amount of walking required to get to various destinations would have been a battle.

Once that feeling of comparing every moment to child-filled travel wore off we experienced a state of travel nirvana.

Travel nirvana is when you realize you can do anything you wish. I plotted parts of a novel, made corrections on stories, and edited a novel on the plane ride to London. I read a whole book on the plane ride back. Every breath I took became less tight, every step less heavy. We didn’t worry about getting lost, because we had plenty of time to get there.

And when I got there they had glitter toilets. If ever I felt the decadence of travel, it was sitting on this designer throne. I bet this looks exactly like the Queen’s.

Imagine sitting on one of these beauties.

Imagine sitting on one of these beauties.

Some people hate to travel, childless or not. There are lots of reasons to be annoyed.

Long lines? Yep. But I could daydream new plots and watch people for ideas.

Yelling, screaming kids? Sure, but they’re not my kids.

Rude pushy, shovey people? I worked hard to avoid them, but when I couldn’t they left my mind as quick as they appeared. It’s not like I’d have to deal with them ever again. So I consoled myself with breathtaking views of Eastern Wales, walled cities, and thousand-year old churches.

The inner arch was part of the original abby which was built sometime around 1092 AD.

The inner arch was part of the original abby which was built sometime around 1092 AD.

I touched an arch that was a thousand years old. And don’t tell anyone, but I snuck a few feels of some old things in a museum too. It said “don’t touch” if my kids where watching I’d have probably behaved. Probably.

I rode a boat in a canal built by the Romans. I walked the path from the British Museum to the flat where I’d lived over a decade ago. It was a lot like a salmon swimming upstream to spawn—we remembered the way as if we’d never left. And sure, my flat was torn down and luxury apartments were being built in its place, but our favorite restaurants were still there. It tasted awesome.

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

After the trip was over, we flew home. We thought of all the things our kids would have loved to see, which is how we knew it was the right amount of time to be gone when we started missing them. Next time we go on a trip it will be with them.

Even though we don’t always hit the travel nirvana state with children, when they are there they bring a special energy with them. A few times we longed for that energy.

Until we’d see a tantruming kid, then we’d get over that feeling quick.

I love comments! Every time you post a comment a wary traveler will reach a higher state of actualization.

 

Where my hometown  and pen name intersect.

Where my hometown and pen name intersect.

Dealing with Criticism

 

When I was in elementary school, one of my favorite subjects was art. And artistic projects weren’t limited to a certain time. Teachers wove creativity into many of the everyday tasks of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Writing the letter B in the shape of an actual bee, helped with hand-eye coordination, and reading (the buh sound), as well as, entertaining the kids with bright Crayola crayons.  (Still love the big, super box of crayons with the sixty-four shades, everything from midnight sparkle to mauve.)

We even had a free time segment near the end of the day in which we could explore our inner Picassos.  We could draw flowers, a picture of our family, a pet, or our homes.  After a dozen or so times of drawing the typical lineup. I got bored.  I was bored a lot in elementary school. I found much of it to be very–well, elementary.  The curse of being clever in a public school.

I remember gazing at the paper and digging deep into the crayon box to find jet-black and violet crayons. purple-flowerssmallAnd an idea was born.

I thought it was brilliant. While all the other chibis copied the typical yellow daisy, a circle with four wobbly petals, I made my flowers petal square outlined in black and purple , even the stem leaves were square.  But as I looked at it, I knew it wasn’t enough, I had to made it more strange, more me.  I added a grid pattern.  Here!  This is it!  Art!  Beautiful!   I rushed up to the teacher’s desk and asked her what she thought.

She frowned and handed the paper back to me with little more than a glance. “Come on, you can do better.”

Now from my adult viewpoint, I can imagine what she felt and saw.  Weird picture, weird kid, and she only had five more minutes to finish her dang coffee before she had to dive back in and try to teach the heathens something, but what she said was like a pair of scissors stuck in my chest. And not the blunt tip safety scissors either, but the super-sharp-serrated-edge kind.

My thinking outside of the norm, my experimenting was wrong. My opinion of myself and my art—crumbled.   I went to my desks, hollow, gutted and drew a picture of a house that was a box and a flower that had exactly four petals and looked exactly like the other thirty kids in class.  This wasn’t the only time in my life that my creative endeavors were criticized but it was the first that I remember that stung, and made me change, made me doubt the muse.

I’ve had other teachers who were the anti-purple-flower teachers.  The ones who saw me writing  fiction in class and instead of asking me to put my papers away turned a blind eye. The ones that entered my drawings into contests.  The ones that let me read my short stories to other class members. But the experience with that first teacher left a deep scar.

Years later, I remember the purple flowers and the cool graphics and wonder how different my life would be if had maintained my faith in myself, if I had sloughed off her opinion and followed the muse down that crazy eight-year-old rabbit hole of creativity. But it took a long time for me to have that kind of confidence.

And even now, I still have a hard time when I get criticism, founded or unfounded.  It shakes me. Makes me doubt.  But the difference is now I understand that not everyone is my audience. I know that not all critics value the same things. Not everyone likes chocolate, or puppies, or purple flowers, and that is fine.  I like chocolate, and puppies, and purple flowers, and that is validation enough.  And if I look hard enough I will find other people who appreciate those things too.

Leave a comment if you want to share how you deal with criticism or just say hi.

Game of Thrones and Other Challenges for a Slow Reader

Game of Thrones

I have always been a slow reader. Even back in high school, when I ate big books for dinner and asked for another for dessert, they always took me awhile.  The Elfstone Series by Terry Brooks, White Gold Wielder by Stephen R. Donaldson, The Stand by Stephen King, The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice, all took me a few weeks. Even with school, a part-time Mickey D’s job, and various band and theater obligations, I always had time to read at a languid pace.

Then college came, and my slow reading really truly became a handicap.  So.  Much. Reading.  Cliff notes became my best buddies.  The amount and the density of what I had to read took its toll.

And then the kid came, then the job, then another kid.

I stopped reading for pleasure. I stopped doing anything for pleasures so I could manage my single household without falling from the cliffs of insanity.  I survived and pressed forward until one night in my mid-twenties, I picked up an old Star Wars novelization Children of the Jedi by Barbara Hambly and started reading.  I read, and read, and read all night.  I had forgotten how good it was to lose myself in a story.  Not long after that, I had my why-am-I-not-a-writer-yet-it’s-my-destiny epiphany.

Books flowed into my life again, everything from YA (the Hunger Games) to the latest, steamy Harlequin (the Italian Count’s Virgin). I devoured them like chocolate chip cookies at a fat camp.  Then I tried to dip back into my first love–doorstop books. I read the epic fantasy Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind.  It was great, but my slow reading coupled with a Doctor Who addition split my focus.  Three months later, I finished.

Three months is not fast enough.  As a writer, I need to keep up with the market and know what is selling.  More, I want to read.

My oldest daughter suggested Game of Thrones and I was hesitant.  The series consisted of giant books and a lot of them.  Then I saw a few snippets from the HBO series and intrigue sucked me in.

I loved it.  The characters! The story! The random death!  No one was safe.  But the book was so dense, so layer, with so many points of view I got bogged down.

Another crippling habit I have, as a writer I want to stop and analyze why something is great, a turn of a phrase, a plot twist, a character arc and there is much to admire in GOT.

In the end, I plod along. I read some GOT, then take a break and read a short quick book, then more GOT.  I should finish sometime after good ole George finally finishes the series, and that’s ok.  I try to avoid internet spoilers but I have a feeling more of my favorite characters will die.

As a writer, I have to read.

As a reader, I want to read.

Here are some methods I have found help me to reading more:

-Make extra blocks of time, lunch at work, a coffee break, a dentist appointment waiting room

-Always have a book with you

-Plan to write a review on your blog and Goodreads

-Join your library’s summer reading program (some have prizes even for the adults)

-Dedicate a half an hour before bed to reading

-Audio books (I’m a bit hesitant to make this suggestion.  Some books do not translate well to audio and I find the experience vastly different from reading. But I have to say, the Harry Potter books sound absolutely brilliant on audio book).

These tips won’t speed up your reading but they did help make it a priority in my life.  What are some of the ways that you fit reading into your day?  For every comment you leave, I will finish another book this year.  (even *gasp* a Game of Thrones whooper.)

First Look

IMG_6762I brought the kids up to my parent’s house this week. Driving down the driveway for the first time after the fire was different than I’d imagined. I’ve seen a ton of pictures and for some reason I thought that would prepare me, but I wasn’t prepared for how much bigger it felt as I drove up the driveway. At the same time the rooms were smaller.

In college I moved around several times. It’s always weird how when a room devoid of things looks so tiny, but magically fits a bed, a dresser (or desk), a side table. When all the things are in a room then it feels right, it feels confortable. So seeing the outline of where the rooms once were seemed off. Where the rooms always this small? How did we ever fit so many things in here? My parents, their four kids, and all our various friends—that house always felt like it could cram another dozen people in it.

IMG_6769I peeked in the window where we stay with the kids and the beds are a pile of ash. The closet where my mom had stored my wedding dress in hopes my daughter would want to wear it was also gone. I thought it would be no big deal, sad, but that I’d already prepared myself. I was over at my in-laws visiting and I asked my sister-in-law if she wanted to come. I’m glad she was there. It was nice to have someone to share the shock with.

IMG_6759As I write this, the air is filled with smoke from over twenty fires burning in the county from thunderstorms. I can’t help but worry for the people being evacuated and knowing some of them will feel the way my family feels right now.

(Pictures of my parent’s house curtsy of Tammy Strobel, www.rowdykittens.com)

I love comments!