Sunday, October 21, 2007



Is the universe trying to tell me something? First it was my scratched eye (ouch) and then, just as that started to heal, I developed a HUGE toothache, complete with Brando-esque cheek, circa The Godfather.

It's not ever a look I thought I would cultivate.

I'm actually in quite a bit of pain, alas, so I won't be around much until I hie to a dentist this week.

Remind me to tell you about this new writing motivation book I am reading, Write is a Verb. If you have trouble dragging yourself to the keyboard...this might be able to nudge you closer.

And here's a question for you all to think do you take advice? Meaning, how do you take information from a class, or a book, or a blog, or a friend, and add it into your life so that it makes an impact?

See you when I don't look so much like a squirrel.

PS: Bloglines this better?

PPS: Thank you for all of your wisdom about the Madam. I will take all of your words with me when I meet with her team (what a strange word) this week.


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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

On Madam and the Universe

It's strange that I don't write that often about Madam, considering that she's so central in my life. Part of it is that I have not yet mastered the gift to converting our little inside jokes and outings into stories that would interest anyone except immediate family. Also, whenever I am inclined to complain about tantrums, etc, I like to take a little time to let those particular feelings blow over. So I end up not writing much at all.

But, honestly, the main reason is that I am waiting for the day that I can write about all of the cute things she says.

We're not there yet.

I've mentioned that Madam is having speech difficulties, yes? After some dithering about whether or not to screen her for possible intervention, we finally decided to go forward and test her.

It's a peculiar feeling, watching someone test your child. I was sitting on my hands the whole time, to keep from jumping in. I wanted to pass Madam a cheat sheet, or something. I wanted to tell the nice tester that “she KNOWS this, no really...she does.” Mostly, I managed to behave (although I may have blurted out an answer or possibly two). The whole thing was complicated by the fact that Madam is EXTREMELY shy around strangers, thus, I could barely get her to say ANYTHING to the teacher, or to follow her directions. It took a very long time for her curiosity to overpower her foreboding.

I knew the tester was not getting an accurate picture of Madam. But there was no way for me to prove it.

She's gotten evaluated a few more times since then, and while now she can say some words, they're pretty much unintelligible to everyone except TEG and me. So she's been recommended for services—not just speech therapy, but also possibly occupational therapy to help with the shyness.

This is all good news. But as a mother, of course, it's hard not to feel that I've failed her. We've been working on all this for so long-the shyness, the speech, but I just couldn't help her. And of course, I start questioning every decision—have I been too lenient? Not lenient enough? Does she remember those days in NICU, and not feel sufficiently bonded with me? Did I eat too much tuna while pregnant? You get the idea.

So, I've been a trifle blue the past few days. This has been compounded by the weather—I have SAD and it's been consistently gray for over a week. And my loneliness—I feel like I AM loneliness lately, and people have to recoil to protect themselves from my contagion.

And just forget the writing. Why did I sign up for Nanowrimo 2007? Oy.

Last night, as I went to bed, I was worrying all of these issues around like beads on a mental string. Thoroughly worn, I did something I have not done in a while. I prayed...just a simple request for relief. “I just want something good to happen.”

Well, today, I went to check my mail and there it was. A Laini's Lady and Not for Robots pin! Just a little treat from one of favorite people.

So, thank you, Universe. That is EXACTLY what I meant.

Now I'll be getting out of my own head and helping my Madam in anyway I can.

PS: Please excuse any misspellings or weirdness in this post--I have scratched my retina (I think) and so I can only see out of one eye--barely. :(

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Sunday Scribbling: First job (a story)

You can see my mother's first job on basic cable everyday at 5pm EST. Just Us Kids is one of those annoying family-friendly sitcoms that seems to have no beginning and no end, but exist in some alternate, candy colored universe without rain designed to make you feel, well, unfriendly towards your own family, I guess. My mother played the pre-teen princess on the show, Carrie Butterhill. On her character's birthday, the producers got Neil Diamond to do a cameo and sing “Sweet Caroline.”

That's the kind of show it was.

Now, I am sure you've seen this tele-wallpaper at some point in your life. An airport gate, a doctor's office. A hangover. And it slid past your eyes and off into oblivion, as it deserved.

But that never happened with us. No, every day, we gathered in front of the television—Josie, Todd, and me—Carrie.

Yes, I am well aware about how creepy that is.

It wasn't always that way. I remember spending hours with Mom, reading books and singing nursery rhymes. I swear, she had more energy for all of that stuff than I did. I felt like I was keeping up with her. We never watched television.

Things changed when Josie and Todd were born. Mom had looked blank, confused. “I didn't plan for twins,” she kept saying to me, as though I had been the one to change the script on her. And they were a handful. They screamed when she tried to sing, threw their books instead of listening to her read them. I could see Mom staring longingly at the door. I hoped that she would remember that I'd never been that much trouble, and would take me with her.

One day she said “OK, FINE” and turned on the television. While she was flipping through the channels, Josie suddenly shrieked, “Mommy!” And so it was—Mommy, about 20 years or so earlier. A lot thinner and a lot blonder, but still...something around the eyes was still, and always, Mom.

“Oh.” Mom said, pausing to look down and fiddle with the remote. A small smile bloomed on her face.

“Did you know about this?” I'm not sure what I was accusing her of.

“What? No...I mean, yeah, I knew about the SHOW, obviously, but it's been off the air for so many years...” She trailed off, and stared back into the small glassed in box that held her former self. “My first job.”

I feel like I had known that, somewhere, like Daddy had sat me down solemnly when I was smaller and told me. It had felt important, like a secret. “Your mother was on television,” he had said. “It was a long time ago.” His voice had gone quiet. He had looked off towards the window, then back at me, as though pressing me to hear whatever he wasn't saying. But I couldn't. I was only eight or so then; the twins newborns. He left us shortly thereafter. Mom never held it against him. “He said he couldn't 'do Ohio' anymore.” And then she would laugh, once.

Now the twins sat, silent, and watched that dumb show from beginning to end. Every time Mom's character walked into the frame, they clapped, and whispered, “Mommy.”

“Shouldn't we be turning it off now?” I raised my voice slightly, to be heard above the moronic laugh track.

“Shush...I remember this scene.” The remote hung useless in her hand and it was as though she was lost.

Well, after that, Josie and Todd demanded to see “Mommy” everyday and Mom gave in, everyday. It became a regular part of our day—our time with Carrie Butterhill. We watched her fight for more allowance, struggle with homework, cry over boys—always looking perfect. Always fixing everything by the twenty-eighth minute or so (I counted). I think the twins were beginning to get confused, honestly. They had Mom, then the “TV Mom,” and, always, Carrie. Sometimes they would look at me as though they couldn't quite place me.

One day, I came home from school and found Mom alone, sitting at the kitchen table, leafing through a fat photo album. I leaned over her, expecting to see pictures of a smiling Josie covered in mud, or Todd on his trike. Or even a baby me.

The pages were crowded with publicity pictures, magazine articles. Mom smiling coyly, blandly, sweetly. Carrie everywhere. I stared hard at the pictures, until I could see them behind my eyelids.

“Where are the twins? And why aren't you at work?”

“Did you know that Scott Baio gave me my first kiss? Well, mine and Carrie's.” Her voice went up when she said kiss, like she was channeling a twelve year old.

“Who?” I grabbed four cookies, then put one back.

She sighed. “I always forget you're just thirteen, Car.”

“You didn't answer me.”

“The twins are with Grandma and work, ugh...I think I need to try something new.” She fluffed her hair then, and I was filled with horror.

“New, like TV? Another show?”

She giggled. “That's so sweet that you think that!” Twelve year old voice again. “But no...” she tugged on one of the publicity stills. “Just something with better hours. You know...more of a future.” She glanced out the kitchen window. It was so dark outside already that the window reflected the kitchen back to us, in frosted miniature. “Maybe it's just winter.” She frowned at me, picked at one of my split ends. “You need a haircut.”

“I don't need one, and anyway, dental work doesn't have a future?”

“Not unless you're the dentist.”

While Mom was picking up the twins, I looked at her album again. At my age, already earning money. Famous. Beautiful. And now she was forty, still beautiful, stuck in a strip mall dental office, checking insurance cards on the phone. “Doing” Ohio because Daddy couldn't.

Maybe what I needed was to find a job.

On Monday I cut school after lunch and went to the mall to think—something about all of the noise made the inside of my own head quiet. And then I saw the line. Have you got what it takes to be a model? The wannabes were already lined up, some two and three deep in places. I weaved myself in and out of the line, always needing to get past them to check myself in the windows of the stores. Tall for my age. Gangly. I didn't look like Mom, or Josie, both beauties. I looked like Grandma—like I'd seen something I wish I hadn't, and I didn't think I should tell . Have you got what it takes? Suddenly, it was though Carrie Butterhill was asking me, and I wanted to answer.

It moved faster than I expected, that line. It was like standing line to get a picture with Santa, that same sense of fear and joy crowding in your throat.

Soon I was behind the wobbly fake-wall. No Santa throne; in fact, it didn't look like much—rolled down beige background, like the maps at school. Wires and black carry cases everywhere. A single metal stool, rusted a bit around the foot rest.

The bored photographer took pictures of everyone, obligingly, and two women looked at them, whispering about hair color and crossed eyes. The women looked glamorous. They didn't belong in a mall in Ohio on a January Monday.

It occurred to me that this was a scam. The mall heat dried up my eyes and I didn't want to look at anything. I started to back out of the line.

“You gonna stay still, or what?” Before I knew it I was sitting on a stool, the photographer moving me before eyeing me in his viewfinder. Then he looked back, startled.

“You're not bad. You ever done this before?” At his tone, the two women both stopped and stared at me.

“No.” I'm not sure what made me add, “But my mother did.”

“Huh. You got good bones.” And then the photos went click, click and something inside of me went click, click back.

The women looked at my pictures, then at me, then back at my pictures again. “You know...we could use you. Maybe.” The photographer handed me his card. “Call us. We mean it.”

Taking the bus home, clutching my pictures and the card, I was dizzy. The smoke curls suspended in the blue winter sky were like happy question marks, and I was the answer. I could see the bus, the road, the dirty snow piled between the parked cars...I was a camera lens. And they were all beautiful.

I burst into the house, my mouth already open, the pictures snapping in my outstretched hand like a flag. It was time for Just Us Kids, but for once, I didn't care. We would all move to California. The two Carries merged, and I wanted everyone to see. I was fixing things.

Mom and the twins sat on the couch, reading. The twins sat on the couch, eyes half closed, mesmerized by Mom's story. A crumpled newspaper lay next to her, text boxes circled with red ink, like little surprised mouths.

And the television was off.
Get hired by going here.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Mother-Talk book review: The Reincarnationist

What happens when you die? Is it the end of the line—you get one turn on this earth and that's it? Or do our souls return again and again...perhaps to right ancient wrongs? That is the tantalizing premise of The Reincarnationist, the new suspense novel by M.J. Rose (Lip Service, The Delilah Complex).

Josh Ryder, a photojournalist, is on assignment in Rome when he becomes critically injured in a terrorist attack. As he recovers, he begins to experience “memory lurches”--flashbacks to what seems to be a past-life as Julius, a pagan priest in ancient Rome who is fighting battles both without (religious warfare has engulfed Rome) and within (a forbidden love affair with a Vestal Virgin, Sabina). His past and present blur to such an extent that he fears he has lost his mind.

Desperate for answers, he joins the Phoenix Foundation, an organization that studies reports of reincarnation and past life experiences in children. Under their auspices, he returns to Rome to investigate a newly discovered tomb that seems to have some connection to his memories.

Unfortunately for him, he is not the only one interested in the contents of the tomb—the fabled Memory Stones, mystical gems that give the owner the ability to go freely into the past. And others are willing to kill to possess those secrets.

Like Dan Brown in the Da Vinci Code, to which The Reincarnationist will inevitably be compared, Rose manages to weave a great deal of research on religious myth and past-life regression into her tale. The flashbacks to ancient Rome are steeped in this scholarship—that world is evoked in dizzying immediacy. In fact, I always felt a little let down by the return to the contemporary story--the writing for these sections was terse, flatter. Josh and his cohorts didn't hold my interest as strongly as Julius and Sabine—the stakes for the latter simply felt higher. Not to mention, their love making allows Rose to show off her skills at erotic writing. The affair is sexy and intense.

Rose also works on a large canvas, with the result that it can be difficult to keep track of some of the characters and their place in the plot. I consider myself a fairly attentive reader, but I found myself paging back and forth to remind myself of who did what. As a writer, I'd love to see an example of Rose's outline—I admire her ability to pay off so many disparate stories.

After a slow start, The Reincarnationist managed to reel me in and keep me sneaking pages all day. Which doesn't say much for my mothering, but hey, I did eventually put the book away. OK, fine, I finished it, but let's not quibble...

This is the first book in a new series, which makes sense, as Rose leaves us with the strong suggestion that there are more stories to be told here. Obviously, she has a wealth of material to choose from. I'll be waiting to learn (and read) more.

To learn more about current research in the field, please visit The Reincarnationist. To read more from M. J. Rose, please visit her blog. Also, you can check out a podcast interview with the author here. To read more reviews of The Reincarnationist, please visit Mother-Talk.


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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

All about books-a meme

The wonderful Kate at Mothers Who Write tagged me for this meme, and it's a good thing too, as my imagination is as dry as a worried old bone this week!

1. Hardcover or paperback, and why? I love hardcovers for their durability, but nothing beats a paperback for slipping into a diaper bag without causing too much extra weight.

2. If I were to own a book shop I would call it...Words to Live By. Or else Green Gables. I'm a dork for that series.

3. My favorite quote from a book (mention the title) is...this is a hard one for me, but I'd have to say it's this one from On The Road:

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!”

4. The author (alive or diseased) I would love to have lunch with would be...since I have been on a bit of Virginia Woolf kick lately, I would have to say her. Although I would also LOVE to meet Anne Tyler. She's one of my idols and she gives so few interviews.

5. If I was going to a deserted island and could only bring one book, except from the SAS survival guide, it would be…I am going to cheat a little bit here and say the collected works of Jane Austen. They're published as ONE book, and I think I would be happy spending all of that tropical time with Darcy, Elizabeth, Marianne and Elinor (but not Fanny, she's a bit of a drip).

6. I would love someone to invent a bookish gadget that…emanated light from within the book itself, so I could read in the dark without necessarily disturbing TEG or Madam.

7. The smell of an old book reminds me of…my favorite library as a child...I loved to sit in the middle of the aisle and pull out those big, magical old books. The mildew smelled exactly like wisdom to me.

8. If I could be the lead character in a book (mention the title), it would be...probably Anne of Green Gables, once she stopped being an orphan. I'd like to live inside her life AND her mind.

9. The most overestimated book of all time is…I don't know about "all time" but since Kate mentioned my first pick The Corrections, I may have to jump in with my second. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. I hate books where so much energy is spent telling me how brilliant and beautiful a main character is, and how much people love her. It makes me rebelliously end up loathing her.

10. I hate it when a book...fails to make me care about the main characters. No amount of gorgeous writing can salvage it for me then.

I'm tagging: Heather, Rach, Amber, Lisa and Deirdre for this one.


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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Lead with your strengths

I don't really learn from my mistakes. Or more accurately, I don't really learn anything new from them. That's because I usually have a sense when things are going to fail; even as I take my first tentative steps, a gonging voice in my head says, “No, go back.” I usually ignore said gonging voice, because it can be difficult to distinguish it from my fear. And it IS fear just often enough to keep me moving in the wrong direction. Alas, this means I don't have a healthy respect for my intuition, either. I am working on that.

But lately, I have been learning from my failed first draft (sadly, still uncompleted) of my novel. It's been interesting analyzing all of the steps that went wrong. Losing the thread of my story in a fear that it wasn't novelistic enough. Giving all of the juicy conflicts to secondary/main characters instead of my poor, ignored main character. Being too vague about my main character's deepest desires.

There is another lesson here, though, and one that surprised me. I didn't lead with my strengths. See, I tend to underwrite, which is why the mini-story blog format works so well for me. I'm not sure if its because I am pressed for time, or because I am rushing to follow the scent of the inspiration, but my writings to be a bit spare. Every now and then, someone will comment on one of my little tales and say that they “can see the characters in a novel.” I squint at my story, words grown strange, to see if perhaps there is something there that I missed. Inevitably, no. I recorded all of my invention. I wish it were different. My stories are the records of spent inspirations.

Somewhere along the way, I read that writers should always overwrite their first drafts. The idea being that if you write and write, you will discover new patterns, ideas, etc that might not have seem apparent upon first vision. It's a good idea, in theory. But for me, theory is where it should have remained.

I tried to overwrite this failed draft, and got hopelessly bogged down in my own excessive verbiage. Instead of seeing things more clearly, I felt myself growing confused as I piled on more and more ideas, details, plot points, backstory. My computer started to make the distinct whir of a tire trapped in rapidly hardening cement. My main character grew more reticent and a little passive, made lazy by the idea that it would take her five, six pages just to cross the room to pick up a nursing bra.

Proust, I am not.

So, now that I am about to begin again, I plan to write my natural way, at least for the first draft. Lean. Perhaps it will give me less to cut, and I might miss out on some interesting digressions, but at least I'll have a story to shape into a second, richer draft.

Do you all do this, in your writing or in your life—try to follow some advice that feels about as right for you as wearing your shoes on your hands in the middle of a blizzard, and then wonder why something that was working, albeit in fits and starts, now sits leaden and immobile?


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