Homeschool Life, Personal Journey

Thoughts from Mount Everest

Figurative thoughts, that is. Four years ago I posted this in regard to my son attending Saint Ignatius, a rigorous private school. I used Robert Frost’s “The Road Less Traveled,” and I used it in that wrong way so many do (but I don’t care). The idea being, find a barely perceptible path in the middle of nowhere and it will yield you a wild-forest-of-a-life. For who wants to stay on the boring path? I wrote that signing up for St. Ignatius was akin to signing for an Everest hike, that if Luke didn’t at least try, he’d look up at the mountain one day and regret it. But. If he tried and managed to climb even to base camp, he’d have a beautiful view, a valley to appreciate. Some of my favorite moments are when I cease the proverbial hike, pull out a glass of wine, and survey where I’ve come from and where I’m going.

This I wanted for my son.

Luke had been homeschooled all his life. What he knew was the plush couch, great books, experiential learning in organizations like Civil Air Patrol, mastery learning in everything, and the yours-truly-taskmaster who—at that point—was losing her ability to motivate him. A Bear Grylls type, Luke thrives in the wild. Any wild will do, even high school. The kid didn’t even know how to work a combination lock when I sent him off with a brand new backpack into the inner-city campus wearing his first tie. I could hardly believe I wouldn’t see him for a whole day.

In a week he’ll be done with high school. To say it had its ups and downs covers it as well as an article from Lady Gaga’s wardrobe. I’d confess the four years of mother angst in diary-style, but my son would kill me, private man that he is. In the end, what I can say of his high school years is he hit the ball out of the park. From the kitchen table to Saint Ignatius to Cornell University. This proud mom thinks he made it to his personal Everest, that he hacked a path of his own and it made all the difference.

For from [God] and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! – Romans 11:36

 

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on writing, Personal Journey

Coffee Confession Query Update

I wish the coffee would stay hot, even down to those last few sips. When it’s first brewed I put my face in the mug and pull the aroma into my nose. Those gloriously warm first sips are the best. Then it gets mindless. I’m in the world of my manuscript, slugging down the caffeine for its properties and not for the flavor anymore. By the end and especially if I’ve forgotten the mug for a bit, those cold shots are all willpower. The will to not waste.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you I’m still waiting to hear from agents who have my full manuscript. Have I ever mentioned what a patient person I am? No? Exactly. The customary wait time before it’s polite to nudge an agent is 90 days. 90! Jesus was in the desert for 40. Meanwhile, I’m all over the place as far as my manuscript goes. I believe in it. I love it. But I also wonder if I’m about to sustain another round of near-knockout punches from which I’ll have to rise. And I will. Rise. I’ve fed myself author stories about overcoming. One writer had over a hundred rejections a year for three years before landing an agent. Same book, mind you. I thought a hundred was high. Here’s where I’m at as of today:

55 queries sent since June, 2018

4 full requests; 1 rejection, 3 still out

43 rejections or no answer (which means the same thing)

8 recently sent and not yet rejected (my goal is to have 7 always in the hopeful queue)

I have to tell you, it felt like more than 43 rejections. At rejection 26 (November 2018) I revamped my query letter with the help of Query Shark, and I received my first requests for fulls. Ah…the validation. But what is validated? My ability to entice an agent. Check. My ability to write fifty good pages. Check. But do I have what it takes to write the full monty? I now believe the ability to finish doesn’t rest on my current level of talent but on my constant level of persistence. Unless a book is in such a shamble that it cannot be fixed (think flattened roadkill), there is hope. I will continue revising. Until I’m agented. Until I’m published.

That is what it means to be a writer. Grit. Rejection. Revising. Some would say that in order to have the audacity to create an entire world with words alone, one must possess a cyclopean ego, its one bulging eye fixed on fandom. And to temper the writer’s god complex is the querying process. Confession: I have never felt my ego was large enough for this industry. If anyone has ideas on how to bulk up the ego at any stage of a manuscript, please share. I do pray though. And I find that if I stop looking at myself (oh poor little me and my homeless manuscript…) I’m happier.

Meanwhile, I use every opportunity to better myself. I listen to podcasts on writing and follow people who are in the querying trenches. This month I applied for a mentor at Author Mentor Match. I should hear any day now. I also entered Trespass in the James Jones First Novel Fellowship. It was exciting for me to enter because last year at this time I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to have surgery. I was unable to focus on anything but loving my family and friends. I missed the deadline.

I hunt down beta readers and join writing groups.  All these things I do to keep moving toward my goal, the most important being to put my butt in the chair and work on my 2nd manuscript, 19,233 words in, but who’s counting? Today I managed 588 words. A thousand is a good day, but I am a slow creator and a rabid revisor.

Thanks for sticking with my update! Hope the coffee didn’t get too cold for you. 🙂

Many thanks to Eclectic Ali for getting the coffee brewing and the conversation started. Ali describes her casual posting plan: Weekend Coffee Share is a time for us to take a break out of our lives and enjoy some time catching up with friends (old and new)! Grab a cup of coffee and share with us! What’s been going on in your life? What are your weekend plans? Is there a topic you’ve just been ruminating on that you want to talk about?

Personal Journey

Coffee Confession from USC

Today for coffee we could head over to the Starbucks at the University of South Carolina. Luke is applying to colleges, and we’re all dreaming of what’s in store for his future. While we haven’t heard back from many of his hopefuls yet, USC accepted him into their honors college and invited us to visit. It was 30° when we left Cleveland. Our walking tour yesterday was 70°, and I was feeling my long sleeves. Not complaining, though. The birds were singing. My skin wasn’t getting frostbit. Students were dressed in shorts. Everyone refers to us as y’all in that southern accent that’s as sweet as their tea.

I have managed to embarrass my son already. They keep throwing us into soirees, the kind where you walk into a room full of clusters of people already engaged in deep, robust conversation, and you must figure out how to pry your way in gracefully. I am not known for my spontaneous verbal grace. One of the many reasons I prefer writing: the backspace key.

We enjoyed breakfast at the top of the Capstone House, a revolving room 18 floors high with floor-to-ceiling windows. I was introduced to the concept of shrimp and grits from a distance and had the most delicious chocolate cheesecake. Cheesecake for breakfast. Oh, and I had it last night for dessert too. I’d do well to walk back to Ohio.

As I type this Luke is in his interview. They play it super low key. My kind of people. The director of admissions joked to a room of scholar-nerds and their nerd-parents that yoga keeps her out of prison. I could definitely have coffee with a gal like that. She and I talked a bit about Pat Conroy, whose books are often set here in Columbia and in Charleston. I am in the middle of Beach Music (a volume so thick you could jack your car on it), and there are scenes that take place on the campus. I got to see the Horseshoe, a beautiful green I just read about, as well as the student union where Conroy has a Vietnam demonstration take place. Very cool.

I’ll tell you though. Even with the 15° temperature, nothing beats home. Looking forward to sharing coffee with you from my beloved Keurig, next time.

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Journey

Coffee Confession

If we were having coffee, I’d ask if you’d like to expand your caffeine horizons with some dark roast & coconut oil whirled at high speed. That’s what produced this cup of foamy, bitter love. I often put powdered collagen in as well, although only in my first cup of the day. How many cups are there in a day? I try to cut myself off at three and drink the last one before 3PM.

I’m slowly getting into my new WIP. I don’t know why I get so full of angst when I sit down to a white page and have to put something there. In the writing world, the first draft is called a crappy first draft (or another name for poo, but you get the drift). We’re supposed to throw words out there, get them down, don’t stifle the flow with grammar and eloquence and all that—which I try not to do, but it hurts my eyes, this crappy first draft. Oh, a sentence or turn of phrase here and there makes me smile, but argh!…if this isn’t a slog. I’m sharing my work as I go, something I said I wouldn’t do and that the great Stephen King advises against, but I have this lovely group of women who are kind enough to visit every two weeks, and I must have an offering. So I have to truck out the garbage and let them smell it. Keeps me humble.

Another thing that humbles/makes-me-insane: waiting on my manuscript. It’s never far from my mind that agents (or their interns) are reading Trespass. I stalk other bloggers who are in a similar position. I pray that the right agent (not just any agent) will love it and that I’ll have the grit to accept rejection. My husband calls me the trojan horse because I want to sneak inside people by way of a thrilling story and unleash my kool-aid on them. Isn’t that what Harriet Beecher Stowe did? And C.S. Lewis? And every great writer? What’s the point if we don’t have something deeper to communicate? And don’t say Marvel. Or DC Comics. Or millions of dollars. I’m still starry-eyed about writing. I hope to die that way. Just, not too soon.

My son had a swim meet Sunday, and he placed 1st in all his events, two of which were relays. Mountaintop moment! After that we spent the Superbowl with friends, which was a good thing since the game and commercials were meh. I’m slowly recovering from the flu. I thought it was a cold, but it unexpectedly turned and trampled me last week. I look forward to smelling again someday. Although I did read that you can lose your sense of smell permanently from the flu. You’re welcome.

Thanks to Eclectic Alli for getting the coffee and conversation brewing.

Personal Journey

Weekend Coffee Share…Lion or Gazelle?

Sometimes I slug the coffee down. Sometimes I sip. Depends on what I’m trying to achieve.

What’s on my mind as I wrap my hands around a steaming mug of superhero? Lions and gazelles. I’ve got Africa fever lately. My sister lives there. My husband’s going there. I just put an Africa-shaped blood stain in one of my stories.

Lions and gazelles. They see each other and a chase begins. Both run as fast as they possibly can. They’re pushing their limits, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. One has to eat to survive. One has to survive, to survive. They have so much in common, the lion and the gazelle.

You’re wondering why I’m going all philosophical on you? I’ve no idea.

So which are you, a lion or a gazelle?* (Truthfully, there’s a third option, hyena. Hope you’re not one of those.)

Like so many people, I made some poor choices in my formative years. Doesn’t that sound benign? Poor choices, formative years. You can tell how old a person is by whom they blame for their imperfections. Under twenty, parents. Twenties and thirties, spouse. Forties, fifties, and beyond, the actual culprit.

For the longest time, I saw myself as a gazelle running to escape my failures. I was running from who-knows-what to who-knows-where, and it was exhausting. The shine of my accolades wore off too soon. My failures loomed like the HOLLYWOOD sign over the valley of my life.

When I mutated from a gazelle to a lion, I don’t know. But I did. Thank God, I did.

You know you’re a lion when the taste of gazelle is enough to get you to sprint. Any time, any day. The only reason the gazelle runs is because she’s being chased. The lion runs because she’s hungry. If you know me at all, you know what drives me, what my personal gazelle looks like.

The gazelle is running away from something and the lion is running toward something.

People who are running toward something can actually get there. People who are running away from something only live to see another anxious day. Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation. They die with their song still inside them.”

Sing before you die, Kelly. Or roar. I seriously tell myself these things.

Not that it’s easy street for Lions. 1 in 8 survive to adulthood. I wish the survival odds were that good for writers who want to publish.

The coffee is gone. It’s a chugging sort of day. Till next week, friends. 🙂

*I’m serious. I’d love to know. Lion or gazelle?

 

Personal Journey

Weekend Coffee Share

Just as I took my first sip of hazelnut roast with heavy cream, the retirement club arrived at Panera. Judging by the volume of their voices, they’re a bunch of bingo callers. Actually, they’re adorable, and I hope I have friends like that when I’m white-haired. Heck, I hope I live to be white-haired. Still. I have to move away. I smile as I do, so they know I’m not offended. My hot pink and yellow earplugs just aren’t cutting it at this range. ADHD? I’ll look it up later and diagnose myself.

How do you like your coffee? Be careful how you answer that question in this charged culture. On Saturday morning I read a blogger who made the statement: Donald Trump didn’t teach us to hate; he just made hate fashionable. I’ve been pondering that, as well as several other assertions from my blogging friend. Many groups have had their fashionable day: Jews, Commies, Catholics, Jews, Blacks, Mexicans, Japs, Jews. And Jews.

White men, it’s just your turn, is all. This too shall pass.

It’s at this point you pat my mug-holding hand and tell me to stop. Just, stop.

I get the hint and we change the subject to safer things, like kids. On Saturday Gabe had a swim meet. Can I tell you how much I love to watch him swim? He’s a monster. He swam the 200 freestyle and 100 Fly, as well as both A relays.

On Sunday, Bob and the team going to Africa were called up to the stage. I’m excited because I get to live vicariously through them, a writer’s preferred way to experience life. They’re building a church shelter in the “bush,” which means they get to sleep under the stars for a few nights. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Supposedly the mosquitos won’t be bad this time of year. How about the lions? How are they? (See why I’m your best vicarious team member?) “I volunteer as tribute.” Said I, never.

Which is why I’m humbled and inspired by those who are willing to sacrifice vacation, money, and whatever it takes to love people. Thanks, Eclectic Ali, for helping me find my voice. I’ve got a ways to go, but it’ll happen. I’ll just keep showing up and hope you do too. xoxo

Personal Journey

Unexpected Kindnesses

It’s been 2+ months since my brain surgery, and I’m clawing my way back to the level of energy I once enjoyed—happy to be thus clawing. When I am tired and things don’t get done, I smile and thank God I’m alive, that I’m here to sink into the couch after pulling a bit of weeds, here to forget my bank account number or the time of an appointment or to hit submit (oops). Everyone assures me they also forget such things, so who knows what’s to blame? My skull has a funny little dent, but with some finesse I can cover it with my hair.

Today I had an appointment with an oral surgeon. Before I was diagnosed with a brain tumor, I had this lesion in my mouth that wouldn’t go away. I’d searched Google and was certain I’d be dying of mouth cancer. I was just about to make an appointment with my dentist when I had another, more pressing issue…pressing on my brain. I remember Bob coming home from work one day and I was having a fit about the unfairness of it all, of having imminent brain surgery, of having to paint the uncooperative stair rails, and of then dying from mouth cancer.

I got over myself and purposed to trust God. In fact, every time I ran my tongue over the lesion I would pray and ask God to increase my trust in Him. And He humbled me again, even in this “little” mouth issue (everything is little now).

Setting: The oral surgeon’s office. First, he looks in my mouth and pronounces that it doesn’t even need to be biopsied. Yay! —no waiting to know if it’s benign. (I’ve waited quite a bit this year.) And then he asks if he should cut if off. I tell him: not if it doesn’t need to be. You know me, the minimalist. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke and all. But he says it’ll be quick and easy, and I figure I should let him since I’m in the chair already. He numbs my mouth and does his thing, which is easier than getting a cavity filled. Then he says, “That’s it. No charge today.” And out he walks.

What?! Who does that? His assistant did tell me he was nice. I’d heard good things about him, but this…this brought tears to my eyes. I had walked into the office feeling anxious and praying, and I walked out in tears, thanking God for the kindness shown me.

The other unexpected blessing came from dear friends who want to bless us with a place to live while we’re between houses. What are the chances their rental would be available exactly the two weeks we’re homeless? Over tea, my friends told me God clearly aligned the dates so we can use the house, that I should thank Him, not them.

So much is going on, and I’ve neglected my blog. Sorry! But I’ve been focused on getting my manuscript agent-ready. I finally began submitting it and am in the wonderful bubble of no-response, the one where I don’t even have one rejection under my belt and am free to dream great big dreams of getting an agent with titanic clout, of seeing the movie-version of my book. I remind myself that the greats were rejected, and I will be too.

Just before my surgery, a piece of mine was accepted by The Forge Literary Magazine. It was a great feeling, especially because I had been rejected by The Forge back in 2016. It’s my own try, try again story, and I hope it will buoy me during the soul-crush of agent rejections. If you are a writer, do keep at it. Keep submitting. Every day you read and write is a day your writing’s improving. The Forge interviewed me about the piece, and I found that analyzing my writing was just as hard as writing in the first place! But it was a good exercise, and I look forward to sharing the story with you when it goes live in July.