Unprepared, but Breathing

It has been an eventful few weeks in our family but the most difficult has the been the loss of our beloved dog, Cassie. She was a beautiful seven year old full sized rough collie. She became ill and died in a very short time.

The physical impact of grief was not new to me as I have lived through loss, many times. It was genuinely unexpected so there was no time to prepare or create space for the oncoming pain. It took some time to breathe, to make room for the loss of my constant companion, to let the feelings land in the moments, and shed cleansing tears. In some ways, it was a storm and I had to let it pass over and through me.

It has been two and a half weeks since her passing. I have not quite stopped looking for her around the house, anticipating her greeting when I come home. I try to talk about the good times with her so we can all remember the joy she brought to our lives, not the last brave moments full of tears in the vet’s office. We took some time to remove her physical presence like her food and water bowls, toys, and leashes. Over the last few days, it happened as the time was right.

The outpouring of compassion from friends and family was something else I for which I was unable to preapre. People sent flowers, cried with us, sent cards, and expressed their love on social media. I had to breathe, to meditate and pray to accept all that wonderful love. I have a new appreciation for the people who fill our lives with amazing love in good times and bad. And I am truly grateful that they honored the place Cassie held in my life.

Just three days ago, we adopted a one month old puppy, and I found myself, once again, unprepared. Rationally, I knew there would be sleep deprivation and constant attention but I expected it to take longer to find the next member of our family. We found Finnegan and knew quickly that he was the one. I was moved to tears in lobby of Central Oklahoma Humane Society as I knew he would be ours. I was helpless to avoid the emotional earthquake that was this tiny, vulnerable life who would instantly be dependent on me, on my family, for his survival. I knew I wasn’t ready, that I needed a little time to prepare. Life isn’t like that, though. When you are open to relationships, even with pets, you have to leap.

With a round of texts and images, my amazing family took that leap with me, and he’s now taking an after breakfast nap in his crate in the bedroom my husband and I share. He is wrapped in a soft old shawl of mine surrounded by soft cuddly toys. We are shattered by the similarity to raising our own infants, by his utter need and devotion, and by the depth our own adoration for this dog. We had forgotten the simple joy of meeting the physical needs of a small one. Thank you Finnegan for reminding us of the joys we had set aside for the more sophisticated art of parenting older kids.

We have recalled the joyful times, not only with Cassie but with one another. We have, finally, remembered to breathe.

Finnegan

FINNEGAN

Cassie

CASSIE

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Home is where the heart is

We recently celebrated a huge milestone for our family, the college graduation of our daughter! I am beyond proud of her accomplishments and the life she is building.

We spent the last four years making Annapolis an extended part of our home while she attended St. John’s College. Having visited many years ago before our daughter was born, we enjoyed renewing our acquaintance with the historic cobblestone streets and lovely restaurants. The graduation trip was full of happy memories and bittersweet moments. This picture was taken just as the sun was setting by the harbor. The streets were full of people laughing and talking. There was a special light in the sky that this picture isn’t quite able to capture.

It is a happy memory, and one I felt like sharing today. I leave these words by Sue Monk Kidd to frame the sunset:

 

“the redness had seeped from the day and night was arranging herself around us. Cooling things down, staining and dyeing the evening purple and blue black.”
Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

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Annapolis in the glow of sunset.

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Baby Steps

Here I am, a few years into my journey to being a professional writer. I write almost every day, submit stories, participate in a critique group, and attend local writer’s club meetings. I seek out conferences to attend. I read everything. I am giving my writing craft the time and energy it needs to grow.

At this point, I need a finished product–a book. I need to prove to myself that I can finish a book length project. I need that foundation upon which I can sell my writing to an agent or publisher, but most of all to readers. I need to be able to believe that I am not just a crafter of exceptional sentences and scenes.

Over the past few years, I have developed some good stories and two great concepts that I hope will become novels. I began work and have made progress on each. And by progress, I mean 75-100 pages of character development, setting descriptions plus actual writing. I love these two stories. I long to write them. I am bonded to  the strong but vulnerable characters and the people they meet along their journeys. I want to inhabit the worlds I have built, and invite readers to join me there. I keep staring at the notebooks I created for each novel. I have struggled with my stunning lack of progress as I continued to move forward in other areas of my writing life. I poke at the work, and delve deeper down the rabbit hole of research and write scenes to fill in the spaces between the buildings of the narrative (Thanks Tom Borcazk for this image). Are these fledgeling novels my adult author version of building castles out of sand? Or are they the works upon which I will build my career?

Recently, I wrote a new story. Right away, I knew that this was another book length project. I felt that buzz when I write something good and true. I knew that the characters had more to tell me than a short story length allows. Then, I attended the May meeting of Oklahoma City Writer’s Inc. and heard JB Hogan speak. (If you haven’t read his work, you should.)

Mr. Hogan told us a little about his writer’s journey. To paraphrase the part of his presentation that made an impact on me: He has been a writer since 1970. He finally found his own author voice in 1985. About that time, he put his work away in a box in the closet, and stopped writing. But he resumed work on his projects again with renewed passion. Eventually, he rewrote all of his early works.

I interpreted his act of packing the old work away in the closet as a huge leap of development he experienced as a writer. Maybe he got to the point where his skills and perspective had changed. Maybe he had grown into a more mature writer. As I listened to his words, I accepted that my two novels-in-progress need to be rewritten. Perhaps one day, I will find the right time to rewrite them and finish the stories that are close to my heart. This is not their time. For now, it is more important to finish a book length project.

I accept that I am at a point of growth in my work. I am only a few years into my journey as an author.  I gave myself permission to honor the baby steps of growth that I have taken as a writer. With a great deal of peace, I placed the two novels-in-progress carefully on a shelf. I will have to wait, along with potential readers, to inhabit those worlds.

There is a new work in progress, now.

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Change of scene

 Today, I am writing at the library in downtown Oklahoma City. It was my son’s idea. He is an avid writer, who wanted a change of scene. Our downtown library is a lovely building. It is full of clean summer sunlight without the heat of outdoors. Whoever designed the building created glass which only allows in cool comforting light in soothing blue tones. The ceiling is a giant skylight. Walls are nearly all glass on the north, east, and west sides. Rooms of various sizes line the walls. Opaque partitions lie perpendicular to the outside walls while light streams through glass panels parallel to the outside walls letting in more light. The rooms vary in size from small study cubicles to a large room designated “quiet reading space” in which comfortable chairs combine with large golden wood conference tables to invite readers to focus.

We are not in a room, but seated at a luxuriously large conference table kindly fitted with power ports. Wifi streams freely and fast to all patrons and their various devices. There is a busy hush to the open space on the second floor. Each floor is open to the other four floors.

The downstairs has a roomy children’s section, several service desks, fiction, teen area, a large atrium with a grand piano, and dozens of small tables and chairs, and some offices hidden behind opaque walls.

The second floor is slightly smaller than the first. The space above the atrium is open to the fourth floor letting in loads of cool light. I wonder what it is like in here when the piano is in use. There are a large number of tables with computers, some are for library catalog searches while others are for use by patrons who need general computer access including the web.

The second floor is non-fiction. One whole section is for materials related to the Holocaust against the Jewish people by the German Nazis during the second world war. Along the south wall is a set of three microfiche/microfilm readers. This is very exciting. I had no idea they were still in use. I wonder what kind of films they still keep in this format.

Sitting here working, the physical environment fades away into the busy hush of people going about their business. I hear the soft sound of a hard working janitor using a straw broom to sweep off the texture tile stairs. I don’t know if that is a way of reducing noise or the best way to clean, but her rhythmic sweeping is soothing.

For some visitor information–

http://www.mls.lib.ok.us/downtown-library

Arts District Parking Garage Main & Colcord

Arts District Parking Garage Main & Colcord

http://parkingokc.com/arts-district Bring your parking ticket from this garage to the front desk of the downtown library for a $1 off voucher.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/153540.The_Little_House

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On our short walk from the Arts District Garage to the Downtown Library, we saw this tiny structure which reminded us of a children’s book, The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton.tlh

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June Bookshelf

I read science fiction in June–

One Second After by William Forstchen

The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu and Ken Liu

The Crystal Deception by Doug J. Cooper

Eye of the World, The Wheel of Time series, book #1 by Robert Jordan


 

And also these books–

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

A New Hope by Robyn Carr

The New Black, Edited by Richard Thomas is an anthology of neo-noir short stories.

I began taking:  Masterclass, James Patterson Teaches Writing

Notable in my reading life is that I have begun aggressively using the public library as a source for ebooks and audio books as well as actual paper books. Their digital two week check out policy pushes me to read faster, and more efficiently. Also, I found that I treasure each of the 14 days I have to complete a book if I have been waiting in the queue for some time. The Eye of the World is a long lovely read, which I had to work hard to finish in the allotted time. It was worth it.

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Soundtrack of my life

I cannot listen to music while writing a first draft or world building. But today, I am in editor-mode working on my upcoming collection of short stories. What do I need for a day full of tedious editing?

  • Background music to keep me focused.
  • Tons of coffee.
  • My sweet dog.
  • The internet.

A collection of singer/songwriter music is playing now-Stan Rogers, Paul Simon, Sting, Mumford and Sons, Florence and the Machine, The Police, and Fleet Foxes fill my writing studio with soothing music.

Now, back to the Red Pen–

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Mom life is full of wonders!

Thank you Scott Dannemiller! You said what we all need to hear in this lovely blog post, “To the Moms: Just Stop It”.

Dannemiller shines a spotlight on the culture of moms who work hard to outdo one another. I have been a full time mom for 21 years, and have been on that crazy train many times. I recall a few pivotal conversations with other moms, during which we challenged one another to “dial it back.” A few times, we actually did dial it back.

I do not go to work outside the home. I have always considered parenting my job. I have, at times, longed for a job with the chance of promotion, paychecks, lunch breaks, peers, and vacation days. I chose, instead, to apply my job skills to being a parent. That is my chance to teach my three kids that doing a job right is not always easy, but always important. I have had the joy of parenting alongside a variety of intelligent, interesting, and fiercely ambitious women over the past two decades. We all want what is best for our kids. I am grateful for the fellow mothers who share my journey. We challenge and affirm one another.

I have tried crafty mom things over the years including wood burning, quilting, knitting, crochet, weaving mats from plastic bags, ceramic painting. I have never excelled at any of these things. I do not get a huge thrill from crafting, for its own sake. I need to be taken by the hand, given the idea, taught the skills, and helped to finish. I learned to bead delicate bracelets on a loom because it was a Camp Fire activity. It was fun and interesting. I still have the loom and a bunch of tiny beads and one really lovely bracelet, which I wove myself. I was all in for helping some kiddos learn to knit, but I still can’t purl.

One of the most amazing aspects of my decades a mom was having the opportunity to embrace new things. I learned all about cross country running. I’ll never be a runner, but I am more fit now than I used to be. And I am a big fan of runners. I embraced baseball–managed the team, kept score, and loved watching the boys play ball. Now that we don’t play anymore, I really miss baseball. It is soccer that keeps me busy now. I may never understand the offsides rule, but I love watching my son play soccer.

The birthday parties could fill a book. I have attended, hosted, and heard about some legendary birthday parties.

As I transition from full time mom to full time writer this spring, I find that I am giving mom life a lot of reflection time. Dannemiller, I hear what you are saying. Moms do sometimes go over the top, to the deep frustration of other parents. I have done it multiple times. For some of us, parenthood is our job. There are moments in our lives that we just need to go over the top–print custom stickers, make a personal gift, give a really fabulous party. Maybe it is all about the mom, perhaps it was all about me, sometimes.

I did the math during my son’s high school graduation. It took almost 7,000 days to reach this point in his life. 7,000 days for which I was present at nearly every single one. I have three kids ages 21, 19, and 14. For all the days of their childhoods in my home, I have either been present or organized for them to be: in a place of safety, well fed, cared for, and accepted.

Calculating that my two older kids were at home for roughly 19 and 18 years plus the younger one at 14.75 years (and counting): I have spent 18,524 cumulative days (so far) of breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, schedules, tucking in, waking up, hugs, discipline, routine, and paying attention. The job is never done, it just starts all over again at the next meal.

Scott, you are right. I am enough. My presence has been and always will be enough. And I am beyond grateful that some days I get to shine, just a little bit.

_____

Update– apparently, Scott Dannemiller received some ugly responses to his original post, about which I wrote this post. I am so sorry to hear that.

You can read his To the Moms–My Apologies

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My kind of SciFi

I like scifi in the old fashioned tradition of Isaac Asimov. I Robot is good storytelling, which happens to take place in a futuristic world. That is my goal: tell a good story that is set in the futuristic world of my own creation.

After years of consuming truly excellent scifi on tv, movies and books, we all want a truly believable world. The story has to make sense within its own framework and within the laws of the natural world (unless the author can alter them).

I am striving to build a world in which interesting characters can tell us a story. The universe of my story has to work. The timeline must reconcile with logic. The geography has to not only work, but be accessible to intelligent readers. Characters must behave according to the parameters set out by the story. Even the science and math must be accurate.

Now, that’s intimidating. And I need to get back to writing.

What scifi do you love that is also good storytelling?

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