Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Despite my best intentions, I have not been here as much as I wanted. In part, for good reasons, because I wrote a Nanowrimo novel and I have been working on finishing it ever since. My spare moments have been spent untangling plot points, fleshing out characters, and creating backstory. And it's been as frustrating and wonderful as I remembered it. The words come harder than they once did, during the halcyon early days of this blog. My fairly-clean first drafts are a thing of the past. The words are messy, halting.

But they are coming.

Unfortunately, it's as though I have a very limited amount of words at my disposal everyday, and most of those go towards my story. Maybe next year, when I am more confident, I'll be able to talk about the process of creating the story itself, my new love affair with YA literature, and everything I think I am learning. But for now, I am still so hesitant, too nervous to look too closely at this for fear I'll return to the aching silence of most of last year.

So, instead, I'll just wish you a wonderful holiday season, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza or just the pleasure of your feet crunching in newly fallen snow. I hope that you approach this time with the same "dreaming eyes of wonder" that glow in Madam's uplifted face as she sees her Christmas tree lit up and half-buried in presents.


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Friday, October 23, 2009

Thoughts in search of a blog post

*Madam has a serious girl crush on another little girl in her classroom. She pretends to be this girl at home, talks rapturously about their playtime in school, and has even chosen attire based on whether it resembled something the Beloved had worn to school.

*This is seriously adorable.

*And after spending a few minutes with Beloved's mom, let me share my own Mommy Crush. I so want to be her friend. I've made some overtures, which have not been entirely rebuffed. So I live in hope.

*If isolation is the dream killer, well...I should be living in an Endless Day. It's not that bad, but I am lonely. Part of that is moving to a new neighborhood. It shouldn't make as big a difference as it has. And yet. I find myself staring out the kitchen window a great deal and chatting with squirrels. (Insert Nuts joke here)

*One thing I would like to do is start a writing group. I work better when I have some support (and the occasional deadline). Anyone know anyone interested in a virtual group?

*This probably would have worked better when I was more involved in the Blogosphere. Oh
well...have to start somewhere.

*Speaking of deadlines...Nanowrimo is coming! I am excited/nervous/apprehensive/slightly nauseous about the whole thing. I have an idea, but no real outline or scenes sketched out yet.

*Luckily, I still have a week.

*Unfortunately, I'll be extremely busy with family for that time.

*But there are always nights, and I really, really want to write something.

*There is no real way to end a post like this.

*Except, this.


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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mardougrrl, 1 and Silence, 0

(cool picture from here.)

I'm nervous.

Oh, I know there isn't really any reason to be. I'm sitting in my basement (yes, I bought a house! Probably more on that later...) with my laptop perched like a faithful Lab on my lap. I'm not running away from saber toothed tigers or battling conquering hordes or...

And yet.

I'm nervous to break up the pristine deadness of this blog.


Well, back when I used to write regularly and often, I tossed words here with abandon, careless...if they landed and took root, great...if not? They were so much fodder. And that worked for me, helped me hear my own thoughts when it seemed like my every inch of my life was straining to accommodate the Great Change, aka Motherhood.

This place helped save my mind.

But along the way, others occasionally wandered by, and sometimes they liked what they read, and said so.

Uh-oh. Suddenly, my blog was no longer this foolish hole in which to plant all the words that had no place in my new life. Suddenly, I felt like I had to be Good, all of the time. And well, no one is good ALL the time (I hope!)

My brain obliged this newfound fear by forgetting the entire English language. And if any words managed to evade this verbal apocalypse, well...that's OK, because I also, conveniently, forgot every single thing I have ever known about storytelling. It's narrative aphasia.

It's a damn shame.

Especially since I still long, more than anything, to be a writer.

I don't mean to, but I get very attached to my words, especially when I am proud of them. And I also start to think that, just maybe, I have used up my alloted words and need to be quiet now. I remember the stories I have written here through a haze of sepia nostalgia, convinced that I will never be able to write anything like them again. And maybe I won't. But maybe I can write something different. Maybe I can just keep writing something different. Maybe I can just keep writing.

In the spirit of “Kill your darlings” I toyed with the idea of crashing this whole blog down, erasing the whole thing.

But I'm really not ready to do that yet. This place represents a fertile period for my imagination, and I need it to remember that such a thing is really possible.

Instead, I'll endeavor to create more careless darlings here, and people will either read them (yes, please!) or not (boo! Come back!).

And I'll be doing Nanowrimo again too, because sometimes the very best thing to do is throw down words upon words, good, bad, indifferent.

I won't hope I can keep it up this time. I just will.


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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sunday Scribblings: Regret

(Image from here.)

A word like regret should have sparked about a million story ideas for me...or OK, at least ten. After all, I think most of my writing is about regret in some way—missed opportunities, words that stick in the throat that perhaps could have changed everything. A decision never made that perhaps would have been the right decision.

But nothing really came. See, regret is a really loaded word for me, so much so that I can't seem to fictionalize it (not this week, anyway). Regret is something that was constantly on my mind, for a really long time. There are whole pathways in my brain seemingly dedicated to traveling down the same painful ruts again and again.

I grew up believing in the myth of unlimited potential. That's what people always told me. “You have so much potential.” Potential sounded like the sound of my parents' voice when they had some money in the bank. Their voices grew fat with safety. What mattered, of course, was not spending the money. Not squandering the potential.

But, of course, potential doesn't sit in some cosmic bank account. It certainly doesn't accrue interest, especially if you don't apply it to your interests. And I didn't, not really. I was terrified of making the wrong choices, of wasting this potential—of facing my life with the same blank, pinched expression my parents had when the bank account grew lean again, but the bills kept arriving.

So many great opportunities floated close to me, bobbed within my grasp, then drifted away. So many times that I didn't reach out, didn't risk, didn't turn my potential into something more.

By the time Madam was born, I spent much of my day tuned into my mental radio station, K-RGRT.

Has anyone ever mentioned that babies are awesome listeners? Because they so are. I would strap baby Madam into her stroller and take her up and down the hill where we lived. The sun would stream through her shade, drenching my little Freudian with a luminescent glow. And I would confess...If only I had gone to graduate school immediately after college! If only I had worked harder in publishing, made more contacts, been less afraid! If only I had finished a novel and gotten it published already! If only I had moved to California before I got pregnant, then maybe I could have become a big wig in television before having a baby!

At this point, Madam would be asleep, no doubt thinking my words were some sort of whining prose poem for her benefit, instead of my own. Certainly, the content of my regrets rarely varied...only the intensity of the pain expressed by my words as I worked myself up to a crescendo of Lost Opportunity and Wasted Life Forever.

The Saturday when all that changed wasn't noticably different from all of the other days. Madam still in her stroller, sleeping in the pink glow of her partially shaded seat. The sky was blue as it almost always is in California. Cars rushed past us as I pushed her on the uneven pavement, up the hill.

I started my litany again, I got myself worked up again, maybe a tear or two escaped while I walked, faster and faster.

Then a new thought entered my mind. Why do I need to tell this story over and over again? Did I think I would ever forget my regrets? Did I think that I might happy for a moment with my current circumstance if I could just...let it go? And...would I want Madam to grow up and feel this way? Feel like she was doomed because she'd made some less-than-brilliant choices in her past? I thought about my regrets. Some were things that I had wanted passionately, and had not worked hard enough to achieve. Some were things I had given up on too soon. But some were things I didn't really want, but felt like I should. And some were things I could see I was better off without anyway.

And the most important dream was not at all timebound. Was I attempting to join some Olympic Team of Novelists? No? So then why did it matter so much whether I wrote my novel at 25 or 35 or 50? Maybe no one would ever call me a wunderkind or an overnight sensation, but maybe I'd be a better writer for all that. Potential should be squandered, because potential means about as much as those numbers on our bank statements. It stands for something else--something that must be realized, even if it's as far from pristine "potential" as I am from my twenty-something self.  If I manage to teach Madam anything, I hope it's that—to burn through all of her potential fearlessly, to hold on to none of it. To trust that she'll be able to make more deposits to her bank account.

That day changed my relationship to my regrets. Yes, there are long, dark times where I can see every bad choice my younger self made—as though I am watching her through two sided glass, screaming, “No, do the OTHER THING. THE OTHER THING!” But usually I can dig up a little perspective from somewhere (I find chocolate and a nap are spectacular for this purpose) and remind myself that all of these plodding steps are going somewhere. They are going back to the page, again and again, until I spend whatever potential still lies curled within me.

You won't regret checking out Sunday Scribblings.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Death and...

Some people can function, create, LIVE while they do their taxes.

I assume those people have accountants.

I am so tired, y'all. And I still have to finish Federal and do two states. 

More when I can wrap my brain around something besides Schedule A. 


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Monday, January 19, 2009

Sunday Scribblings: Pilgrimage (a short short)

(Hajj pic from here.)

Ed note: Just a short little story inspired by this weeks Sunday Scribbling prompt. It's been a while.

Me? I'm nothing.

You know that feeling you get when you walk down the halls of your school, and a draft of air blows past you? That feeling like maybe you should look around, see if you missed something? But also feeling a little dumb, and not wanting anyone to see you looking around for nothing?

I'm that nothing. And believe me, I've worked at it.

We've all lived in this neighborhood so long it's like we've worn a groove into the cement. First my brothers, Rich and Tom. Then my sister, Angie. Another brother Johnny. Sister Liz. And then me, Jenny. Some days it can feel like my sneakers are trudging into their footsteps, but my feet never quite fit. And so I trip, a lot.

Everybody knows my family. They remember the red sirens streaking across the walls of their houses, breaking through the gray. They remember the muttered metallic gibberish of the police radios as the cops' big hands shoved my brothers' heads into the car. Maybe their heads had a groove too. A rut where only cops' big hands could fit.

My sisters? They kept their terror local—inside the walls of the school itself. I still get the sideline look and scuffle from the older girls, even the tall, tough ones. The ones who remember them, and see my red hair and pale skin as an ugly echo.

Usually, I tried to stay out of everyone's way. This was easier than it sounded, thanks to Aziza Manjur and her family. They've lived in the neighborhood almost as long as we have, and are probably the first Muslims anyone around here ever met. People gave them the weird glances for a while, but they were just too normal. They lived in the same type of two story gray house we all did, with wooden steps that sagged after years of too much snow. Mr. Manjur taught me to drive behind the wheel of their old Honda with the scratches on the doors. Mrs. Manjur taught me to cook mutton, and boil tea. I'm sure if you look at their family pictures, you'll see me, pale as a ghost, floating off to one side. But still there.

For a while, it was just the Manjurs, and me, and everyone else, but then something happened. It was like a worm hole opened between Somalia and here, and before long, there was a whole community of them here. The girls all looked a little like Aziza, except for those glittery head scarves that made their heads look like sleepy flowers. These girls smiled their shy, toothy smiles at me, but chattered to Aziza in that language that sounded like a bunch of As and Bs and Ms to me. And Aziza, who used to streak her dark hair orange and pink for parties (I used to have to hold her head over the sink for hours afterwards. I'm pretty sure Mrs. Manjur never knew), would stroll over to them, and talk back. The Manjurs were always busy. But they always offered me the use of the house. Sometimes, I didn't bother. Alone is alone, even with cable and nicer furniture.

It shouldn't have surprised me the day I picked her up to go to school, and she was wearing a pink flowered head scarf. She walked next to me like everything was normal, except she didn't even look at me. She kept sneaking glances of her new head in car windows.

“So...your mom and dad finally insisted?”

“Nah, I decided to try it for myself.” She tossed her head a little, like she'd grown a new mane of hair. The spangles in the scarf caught what little light was around us and seemed to reflect little pink spotlights on the dull snow piles.

“That doesn't even match what you are wearing.” I said, keeping my eyes on the cracked, iced sidewalk in front of me.

“You know it's not about that, Jen. Besides,” she added with a grin. “I kind of like the idea that it doesn't match. Feels more like me.”

“ gonna teach me how to wear one?” We always tried stuff together.

She stopped short. “Jen...this isn't...I mean...”

“I know.” We'd reached the school. I walked away from Aziza, but not before I noticed the excited crowd of girls around Aziza, pressing against her like jungle birds.

And then at the end of homeroom, Ms. Carena muttered her usual question about “Any announcements?” That was our cue to push our chairs away and trudge into our day. But Aziza stood up and said, “I have something. Uh...I'll be out of school for the next month. My family is going to hajj. The pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims need to take once in their lifetime. We're leaving, uh...this weekend.” I noticed she was using her “Explaining things to non-Muslims, and everyone not named Jenny” voice and felt a little smug, until her words hit me. Going?

I caught up with her in the hallway and managed to tear her away from the Somali girls for once. They were like an honor guard.

“When were you going to tell me?”

“Didn't you notice we were packing stuff?”

“Yeah, to send to family. Like you all do all the damn time.”

“A bunch of us are going this year.”

“Oh, you need to go because these girls are going? Like its Prom?”

“What?” She looked confused. I wished I could still see all of her. “I meant...a bunch of family. From England. From Somalia. It's a big deal.”

“Take me with you.”

“'s,'s not a vacation. It's a pilgrimage. It's, like, super-holy to us.”

“I can be holy.” The endless rows of lockers faded from my eyes and I started to see myself there, surrounded by millions of other people, a part of the Manjurs' “us.”

“So...OK. Then you stay here. Let your folks go alone. You have the rest of your life to do this.”

“Yeah, like Mama and Papa would just lea...”


“Anyway, Mama and Papa already said no. It's not like I didn't ask.” Her words were clipped. We'd reached my classroom. “See you later.”


Oh, I wished that I could tap into that blood rage that marks my family. But maybe I'd been neglecting it too long. Unlike my brothers, who would have just slammed Aziza and her new friends into the pavement, and unlike my sisters, who would have found a way to make Aziza kill herself in self-loathing, I...couldn't do anything. Except sit and start my class, so that's what I did.

After school, I sat in the Manjurs' living room, and I couldn't believe I'd ignored all this. Huge suitcases lay open all over the floor in the living room and hallways. Silky piles of fabric and chiffon pooled inside of them, and draped on the couches and chairs. The room looked excited, happy—full of something I couldn't explain. I wanted to be anywhere else.

The Manjurs were trying to include me, I could tell. “Oh, Jenny....could you hand me that file folder? Oh, Jen...could you please make sure I'm not forgetting...?” I already had a set of keys, instructions on where the circuit breaker was, and a stern admonition to “eat for EVERY meal...not just the ones you remember.” Once I caught Mr. Manjur looking at me, a puzzled, sad expression on his face. Again, blood rose up in me, and wanted to flow through the ruts that were already inside of me.

I'm not sure when I found myself alone in the room.

The lamplight glowed warm, red in the room, making it look smaller, shoved up full with stuff for the pilgrimage. The whole room appeared to be leaving at once.

I stood up, stroked the ceremonial white suit draped on the back on my chair. Folded it and dropped it in the mouth of the open suitcase. Closed it, then opened it again. I knew Mr. Manjur had it specially made. I knew he needed to wear it on the hajj, another rule I couldn't follow.

And then I looked at Mr. Manjur's desk.

Piles of bills were stacked there, rubber banded. A plain manila folder teetered on the money. I knew the family paperwork was in there. Passports. Confirmations.

My hands moved towards them, and I pulled them back, hard. Steadied myself on the desk. I saw myself, then, shoving the money and papers into my backpack. Taking a pair of scissors and destroying the clothes. Doing it all.

It would be so easy. Blood hummed in my ears, in my throat. It would be so easy, and it would be so good. Then, they'd stay. Instead of leaving. Like it was nothing.

They'd already left me here.

With the keys. With all they had.

The blood beat in my skull, and roared around my well worn grooves. Rich, Tom, Angie, Johnny, Liz, me. My hands strained, itching with the desire for action. I had to get out.

“Jenny?” Aziza, soft, questioning. Normal.

I rushed past her without a word, ran through the door into a night without any stars, lit by the hollow glow of streetlamps on the tired snow. The circles of light were, and then were not.

The Manjurs went on their hajj, had their holy time without me. But I took a trip too. Maybe even a longer one.

Sometimes the pilgrimage that matters is the one from “nothing” to “something.”

To take more holy trips, go here.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

When the student is ready...

From this site.

I am currently reading a book that I believe will change my life.

Considering the years I have spent reading self-help and how-to books, believe me when I say that I do not make this claim lightly.

The book is called Mindset by Carol Dweck, Ph.D, and it's about, well, your mindset and how it can help or hinder your efforts at success. She writes about two main mindsets—the “fixed” mindset which is the belief that talent is either there, or its not, and effort cannot change that; and the “growth” mindset that values hard work and sustained learning more than talent.

You can guess which one I have.

See, from an early age, certain things have come easily to me, and these are the things I have built my life around. Books, words, stories. I don't remember learning how to read, because I actually don't remember not knowing how to read. I adored school, adored the constant praise and steady stream of rewards. School was a place where I could be the best, unlike at home, where I was the far-behind youngest child.

Once I had a taste of being the best, well, I wanted to stay the best. And that meant avoiding anything that I wasn't immediately good at doing. I would tentatively try a new activity, and unless I showed unmistakable signs of genius, I would leave it alone. Because if you have to TRY, then it's obviously not in you.

I won't exactly say this attitude worked for me growing up, but I didn't challenge it because I was still doing well. I was still a straight A student in the subjects that mattered to me, still viewed as a girl with a great deal of potential. Potential was my very favorite word while I was young, and I wanted to stay potential forever. That way I could still see my future genius off in the hazy, pearly future—and not have to deal with the possibility that it wouldn't work out quite that way.

In college, I worked harder than I ever did in my life, but I couldn't seem to make headway in several subjects. I blamed this on the fact that my fellow students had grown up with much more enrichment (in all the ways that mattered)--better schools, more cultural capital, parents who were educated, money. It didn't dawn on me that I was still struggling with the central idea that “Either you have it, or you don't. Either you know it, or you never will.” I couldn't seem to learn, perhaps because I was afraid to make mistakes and then try again.

My professional life didn't work out much better. Again, people saw potential in me, and again I felt incapable of translating that potential into something concrete. I began to see myself as a failure, and stopped seeking career-level jobs. Instead, I worked clerical jobs that frustrated TEG, and others, who couldn't understand why I wasn't blazing some sort of creative trail.

Short answer: Because if I had to try, that very attempt would be an admission that I had no talent, and thus would never succeed.

My mindset changed briefly after Madam was born. Not only did motherhood come with its own steep learning curve, but the tasks were immediate and vital. I had to learn to feed her, soothe her, change her. I had no choice. And because I didn't have any weird beliefs about needing to be a “natural” mother, I was able to learn what I needed, for Madam's sake.
I don't think it's any surprise that the first year and a half of Madam's life were the most productive, creatively, of my life. The growth mindset carried over, briefly, into my writing. I started blogging and began to write fiction again for the first time in years.

But soon, I felt like I hit a plateau. How did I know if I was getting better? So many people were better than I was! And the worst part was: I could see good writing all around me, could even articulate what pleased me about it, but I couldn't learn it myself. I would see people turning their blogs into books, stretching their stories into novels, and I had NO idea how to do it myself. How to start, even. Because if I couldn't envision every step of the process, and couldn't come up with perfect ideas before touching fingers to keyboard, well, then...I needed to forget it.

Yep. The fixed mindset was back.

And so I've kept laboring under this desire to be prove brilliant, without taking the risk of actual work. I've read books and been unable to see past my own sickening envy.

Well, goodbye to all that. Goodbye to a rotten tooth of an idea that has spread its poison over my life for a good three decades. Goodbye to the idea that talent is uber-alles. After all, what really happens if I write a terrible novel? I waste my time? I waste finger energy? I'll be killed for Crimes Against Fiction?

So what?

I'm going to go slowly, and write without inspiration or pleasure until the inspiration and pleasure inevitably appear. I'm going to rewrite even when I am unsure exactly how to fix something. I'm going to be wretched, no doubt.

I cannot wait.

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