2017 in the Rear View Mirror

2017. Crushed it. Really and truly. Those of you who know me know I beat myself up at regular intervals. I raise self-flagellation to an art form. My friends tell me I’m too hard on myself. If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do me no harm. I like to think I have an Anne Lamott aren’t-I-funny? aren’t-I-endearing? eggshell personality. Or that it comes as a side-effect of being rejected on a regular basis. All this to say, I’m not accustomed to patting myself on the back. But for 2017, I’m making an exception.

With 2017 I am thrilled, even with the number of rejections. Because rejections mean I’ve been trying. Rejections mean I’ve been hit and I’m still in the ring. In fact, I stayed in the ring and completed my first novel.

RESOLUTE was my word for 2017, and I’m proud to say it matched my year.

There is so much more to writing than just writing well. Does that seem obvious? Or confusing. I thought if I just wrote well, I’d be well read. If you build it, they will come. But noooooo. They don’t come. They don’t. You have to build it, repair it, arrange it, repair it, raze it, re-build it. Then, you may commence begging…begging for them to come. I BUILT IT, PEOPLE! You say. (then you hear the echo) You get the bullhorn out and street-preach at them.

If you build it, they will not come. You must go gather them. In 2017 I committed to spending time each day reading and commenting on fellow bloggers. The more I read, the more inspired I became. What started out as a commitment to encourage others, ended up encouraging and growing me. And along the way I’ve met some cool writer-friends.

I’m not a planner-blogger. I post whatever is in my mind. If the mind is full of cobwebs, I don’t want to give you cobwebs. I just wait. This explains my large chunks of blog silence. A commitment to a regular posting schedule is one of those things that sounds good on a list of resolutions, but is not realistic for me. My goals for 2018 are to get Trespass represented, publish more shorts and flashes, and have less cobwebs.

My 2017 writing accomplishments.

  1. Finished my novel, Trespass. It’s out to beta readers now, and I hope to send it to agents in 2018.
  2. Four works accepted for publication.
  3. Several flash/shorts out to literary journals, awaiting news.
  4. Wrote/edited almost every day.
  5. Took part in writing contests whenever I needed a break from my novel.

It was a physical year as well.

  1. Hiked a volcano in February.
  2. Ran my first ten miler in April.
  3. Ran my first half marathon in October.
  4. Got slow and fat over Christmas.

My whole family had a sort of Rocky Balboa year. Perhaps this stuff is contagious. I credit my husband with getting the ball rolling. Each of my children worked hard, challenged themselves, and took giant strides out of their comfort zones—whether it was a work promotion, a new sport, or an ambitious school schedule.

This is how my kids inspire me: I’ll be jogging, feeling like someone scooped out the flesh of my quads and put led in there…wanting very badly to walk. Or fall over. Then I think of one of my kids and how they don’t stop when it gets hard…and I don’t stop either. I can’t give less than I ask of them. Competition at its finest. And the more I overcome in one area, it spills over onto others. I expect 2018 will have its challenges and blows. If it please God, I plan to stay in the ring.

Happy New Year!

 

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Winging it with INK

I credit several people with my tattoo. First Katae, who made the whole thing happen and gave me a forever birthday gift. Next my husband, who puts up with this manifestation of a midlife crisis. My daughter Tory, whose trip to the parlor (do they call it that anymore?) got us talking about matching tattoos. My son’s swim coach: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And finally, my dear friend who I never thought would get a tattoo, got one. I’m such a follower.

In college, Katae found her love of ink and piercings. When she and her roomies got bored, they wouldn’t go to a movie or play a violent game of spoons like my generation. Nooooo. The way to combat boredom in the new millennium is to whimsically get permanent marks scribbled onto your flesh.

Katae

What could be more special than mother-daughter matching tattoos? Our ink is in the same place and consists of the same words—each with our own flair. My “flair” caused the tattoo artist much consternation and at one point he sighed and said, “I’m just going to wing it.”

I be like THIS IS A PERMANENT THING, DUDE. NO WINGS. GET THE PROCESS SHEET, THE RECIPE, THE POINT-BY-POINT DIRECTIONS. HAVEN’T YOU EVER HEARD OF MEASURE TWICE, CUT ONCE? But I kept my mouth shut because I was already becoming one of those people. You know, the one who shows up empty-handed and empty-minded, without a printed copy of exactly what she wants, the one who has only a hazy idea and let’s-spend-all-day-figuring-out-how-to-pirate-this-obscure-font one. That one.

This font was worth it.

Now I know why, when I went searching for script tattoos that wrapped, I found one. One hit. Do you know how many pictures of body art populate cyberspace? Should have been a red flag. When the artist warned me he would be getting frustrated during the stenciling phase, I started to understand: this was not the usual order. Of course. I’m one of those people who never orders a dish as it’s described on the menu.

The frustrating part: stenciling. “Winging it.”

No, I’m not bored. But I do have a philosophical look going on. I think I’m questioning my sanity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our tattoos are from Isaiah 43: When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the LORD your God. – Isaiah

Every time I look at my tattoo, I’ll think of Katae. And I’ll remember God and how He remade my life.

The Things I Carry

“What’s it like, being dead?”

“…I don’t know, I guess it’s like being inside a book that nobody’s reading.” – From Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. This quote bowled me over. Not just because it’s a fresh look at death, but because it captures my feelings. While I’m writing I Trespass, I’m “inside a book nobody’s reading.”

Which is to say, sometimes I feel dead.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad dead. Let’s pretend there’s good dead and bad dead, and this is more of the with-my-fellow-dead, dead. My characters and I are someplace everybody else isn’t.

In the Bible, the word death is never defined by lexicographers as annihilation or extinction or even unconsciousness, but as separation. And that distinction helps me wrap my mind around death. I hope it helps you too. So while I’m writing my book nobody’s reading, I feel a separation– like I have a secret or a double life. This is the thing I carry: my story. The one for which I presently labor, and the ones waiting in the queue of my imagination.

Yesterday I finished a short story based on a family member. I began writing with real names and only at the end did I do a find/replace. (Well look at that, some members of my family are paying attention.) Keeping as much truth as possible for as long as possible helps me in the initial slog-through of the story. Once I get momentum, truth and fiction blur. I mash together an uncle and a nephew into a new little boy of my own creation. The truth is, I had a feeling I wanted to convey. I can’t even name it, but it’s the way you feel when you’re unprotected and it begins to rain and home is a long way off. It’s one to which I keep returning– children and the forces that play upon them. I have an uncle who committed suicide, and I’ve often wondered how that went down the day they were told. Rather than ask (what fun is that?), I made up how it went down that day, the day they were told.

Anyway, I wanted so badly to share this story with somebody, anybody who could say yes, I get it! or no, you’re unclear, etc. I often draft my children into literary service. Gabe is a precocious twelve year old and has often shown me plot holes or character flaws, but this story is rather sordid. I spared him. Tory, my mature and insightful writing critic is overwhelmed with school and work, and only a selfish brute would put a manuscript under her nose (for the second time this week), so I didn’t. I thought of putting a call out to my friends on Facebook or WordPress along the lines of Ahoy! Anybody sitting around wishing for a beta read? The deadline is October 1st, and I need immediate assistance… But also a part of me wanted to just ship it off, which I did.

Writing is also like war time communication, pamphlets dropped by the thousands on an uncaring population. Even in Hiroshima and Nagasaki no one bothered to read the warnings dropped from American planes that said something along the lines of: Evacuate or die. And my missives are not nearly that important. You can imagine how few people read them. Well, maybe you can’t, but I can. You’d think the inverse relationship between labor output and actual reads would send me running to another, more impactful activity. On the contrary, If I can’t write something wonderful I know no one will read, I’ll write about the process of writing something I think is wonderful I know no one will read… Exhibit A: this post.

I meant to write about a harvest, which was my prompt from Carrot Ranch. Unfortunately, I got side-tracked. When I think harvest, the first thing that comes to mind is the harvest of souls talked about in Matthew 9:37. Jesus compares proselytizing to harvesting. Actually, harvesting is one of God’s favorite metaphors. At the end of all things, He says, there will be a great harvest where the wheat and the weeds will be gathered and sorted and– woe to you weeds out there. That’s the gist. Don’t be a weed.

Because separation doesn’t feel so cozy as a book nobody’s reading.

 

 

 

Fearful, Tearful, Weirdful, and Rise

Fear. I wish I could cut it from my soul with a scissors. I wish I could lay on a comfy couch, talk its existence into oblivion, then charge myself $100/hour. I’d collect my fees and go on a vacation to the beach.

I have an active imagination, so I fear things most people haven’t even thought of. Example: Swings and Things. Everybody else just dons the batting helmets. Me, I think What is the probability there’s lice in there? I mean, how many scraggly heads have been inside that thing today alone? And everybody knows you’re not supposed to share headgear…

How about door handles. Am I the only one who considers the millions of invisible germs crawling all over those suckers? Or speaking engagements. Truly. Frightening. Or posting my innermost thoughts for the world–

You get my point. But I try very hard not to let fear stop me from doing anything. I charge it. Get it over with. The hardest thing is the waiting. A hard thing looms on the horizon and I just want to compress time so I can face it and put it in the rear-view mirror.

My kids have to live with this philosophy. I homeschool them, which you’d think is inherently insulating. And in some ways, it is. Or it can be. Who hasn’t met the socially backward, jumper-wearing, yellow-toothed homeschooler who hasn’t seen a hairbrush since 1995? That’s what I’m working against. I can conjure up all sorts of uncomfortable hard, fearful, tearful, engagements where my little ones’ homeschoolness will be showing, oh yes, and in those fearful, tearful, weirdful moments when they want to crawl into a hole and die (or at least crawl back home into their fuzzy blankets where math problems are their only problems)– in that moment, they get a glorious chance to rise. Rise and face whatever “horror” I set in front of them. Today it was meeting the herd of cross country kids at the stadium, all of whom came from class while my guy stands outside the locked gate (an apt image, as it were) waiting to be let in. “I wish there was just one other homeschooler, so I wouldn’t have to be alone,” he says. Inside I sigh and understand completely. With my outside voice I tell him to embrace this because he’ll be stronger for it.

I’m not a tiger mom, contrary to the opinion of my family. But I am driven to certain opportunities: fearful, tearful, weirdful opportunities at which they can rise and overcome. God help us.

Child: “I hate this. Why do you force me to do x?”

Me: “To prepare you to face a world that doesn’t care about you, without me.”

 

Getting to the Whole Story: An Example from my Son

School started today, to my son’s horror. We’re finishing our history curriculum from last year because I went through K-12 never learning anything after WWII because we always ran out of school year before we ran out of boring textbook.

A History of US is one of my favorites because it’s a comprehensive, source-driven look at our past and not a boring textbook. Each day Gabe reads a few chapters and writes a paraphrase on his blog. Scroll down to his post. Did you know the bolded information? I didn’t.

There are many significant happenings, the details of which don’t transmit to Joe Public. In the case of my history ignorance, a textbook writer somewhere, sometime made the decision that the bolded piece of intel wasn’t worth the ink. I understand cuts must be made. But I don’t have to like it. I don’t have to trust someone, somewhere to filter my history for me. The way to bypass the textbook revisionist is to read as much source documentation as possible. And to believe: The man who tells the story is as important as the story itself.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by nuclear bombs. Both were destroyed because they were large, industrial cities that supported the Japanese war effort. Days before the bombing, pamphlets were dropped on Hiroshima to warn the citizens that the city would be destroyed, but nobody took it seriously. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed just 3 days apart. Somewhere between 129,000, and 226,000 people were killed in the two bombings combined. The pilots on the 509th Composite Group of the 313th Wing of the 21st Bombing Command of the 20th Air Force were chosen to do a secret mission. They practiced for it, but instead of practicing with huge amounts of missiles, they would practice with a single, medium sized weapon. Soon they were getting bored and even being taunted by other groups. They were taught to fear storms, especially electrical storms, and they never even knew why the whole time, but they still did it. When they flew over Hiroshima and they saw the bomb drop, at first it just looked like any ordinary bomb, but when it hit the city it made a huge explosion and a mushroom cloud. Three days later they did the same thing to Nagasaki, and the war ended. – Gabe, grade 7

What happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was terrible. I was always taught that. Lately, I’ve been told I should feel ashamed of my country’s actions: the decision to drop the bomb. That’s when I start getting uncomfortable, and you should too. There are so many atrocities through the ages that, were we to begin serving penance for the actions of people who lived and died long before us and in a world entirely different from ours– we open a can of Dune-sized worms. Do you feel it, opening? I do. We’re in the middle of a shift; it’s fashionable to measure antiquated actions with a ruler of modern philosophy.

Who am I, in 2017, to decide whether or Truman should have dropped the bomb in 1945?

Truman, for his part, thought he was bringing the war to a swift close. Taken in its time, the decision was the right one… and to judge the decisions of people in 1945 by the standards of 201[7] is not only ahistorical, it is pointless. Truman and his advisers made the only decision they could have made; indeed, considered in the context of World War II, it wasn’t really much of a decision at all (Tom Nichols).

The above quote is why, when we’re done with our history curriculum, we’ll read through every source document provided by A History of US, all organized into the last volume, #12. Then Gabe will read Hiroshima Diary, by Dr. Michihiko Hachiya, who survived the Hiroshima bombing, witnessed first-hand the devastation, and did his best to treat a formerly unknown condition: radiation poisoning.