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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July… Don’t Want to Forget

CNW_Winner_200July was NaNoWriMo month for me. I set a goal of 30K words, figuring a thousand a day would stretch me. Boy, did it ever. I consider writing a fun, yet precise and artful enterprise, but in NaNoWriMo the point is to get your story out as fast as possible. In the writing world this is referred to as the vomit draft.

Because so much will be slashed or re-written, it’s not worth it to make every image glorious, every word just so. That comes later. Still– spending a month hurling sub-par exposition onto the screen because I had a word count to make… hurt my lit-snob eyes.

At first it was hard to keep going. Part of what motivates me is the delusion that what I’ve got on the page is excellence. Like exercise or right eating– if breakfast was a donut, might as well hit McDonald’s on the way home because they day is shot. With the vomit draft, I had to leave that thinking behind, to have faith that the sacrifice of my summer mornings would eventually reach the throne room. Confession: I actually love writing and would gladly do it all day long. What I sacrifice are the other practical things I could be, maybe should be doing.

This chart represents my July. How Maureen McHugh got into my head as I slogged through this process, I don’t know. Or else, maybe I’m not that special; I’m just like every other person struggling to write a book. Ok, probably that.

Credit: Maureen McHugh

Credit: Maureen McHugh

While I was practically chanting to myself it’s not a waste to pursue this dream of mine, my kids were doing their summer things too. My job is to get them there. Luke spent Monday through Thursday afternoons downtown. That meant I created my curriculum in the beautiful Carnegie Library or jogged the Hope Memorial Bridge while Luke dragged weighted sleds across Wasmer’s turf field. Have you ever stepped onto a turf field on a summer’s day? It’s like stepping on Mercury. I could see the skyline of Cleveland and feel the breeze off Lake Erie. Luke could feel his thighs melting, I imagine. Two of the pics below are of the aftermath of soccer tryout preparations. Note the dead grass and clever use of lawn accoutrements.

They say chlorine is the breakfast of champions. Gabe had it for breakfast and dinner. He participated in our city’s rec team and in the long course with his club team. The combination made him strong and lean as he’s ever been. Long course was a dish of humility– holy cow, is this pool long; the rec league, a dish of validation– is this kid for real…

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Gabe and Coach Lindsey

Yep. Real as the alarm every morning and the practice every night. …because that’s how winnin is done. – Rocky Balboa

Bob’s summer. He gave it as he often does, to planning a mission trip to South Dakota. Nothing makes Bob happier than helping people stretch themselves in service and charity. The team built a playground and helped construct a house. They led the church services and even fed anyone who came to church. This missions trip is not for the faint of heart. I also posted about it here.

It’s no pleasure trip either. A manager at Aeropostale, Tory gives the same due diligence to cleaning sludge out of a flooded basement in South Dakota as she does to running the store. That was her task for two days. All alone, no complaints. Like Bob, she’s got a feel for managing people and is not above any job that God needs done. I’m here, Lord. Send me. I have a feeling that willingness to get their hands dirty is what makes them effective managers.

As the team wends its way back home, stopping in the badlands, Custer State Park, and Mount Rushmore, they solidify friendships that will last long after the trip is over. Here they are at Indiana Dunes State Park, the last stop on the way home.beach

That was July. Today Luke is at soccer tryouts for St. Ignatius. We’ve always sought the biggest pond for our frogs. Sometimes that big pond was speech and debate, post-secondary college, Model UN, Civil Air Patrol, or the higher athleticism of club sports. I watched club soccer kids getting cut on Tuesday, kids who’d be playing varsity on their city teams. I watched them shake hands with the coaches, hang their heads and walk away from a sport they love.

I think, this pond feels more like Lake Michigan.

It was at this point in my post that I had to leave to pick up Luke from tryouts.  Teams were being finalized as I typed. But August happenings will be another post. 🙂

 

 

E is for Excellence

EI love excellence. I chase it. But there’s nothing special about me. I’m not particularly strong in mind or body. What I find difficult, that I do. My difficult and your difficult may be worlds apart. No matter. Increments. That’s how I chase excellence.

Eric Liddell is one of my heroes (Chariots of Fire), and I bet you’ll be wrong about why. Liddell is best known for his portrayal in a bad movie with a good music score and his Olympic win. But there’s so much more to him.

First of all, Eric Liddell lived in a different age. To understand him, you must understand this. Sundays were recognized by most of the western world as God’s day. Stores were closed. All of them. People didn’t plow or mow or bring their accounts current. They either went to church or they slept off their hangovers. Liddell was the church-going sort. His Olympic event, the 100 Meter, was scheduled for a Sunday. Rather than act counter to his conscience as dictated by his faith, Liddell chose not to run. As I’m sure you can imagine, this ticked off much of Scotland. God wants you to bring glory to Scotland, Liddell. Run the race, man.

Liddell would not be swayed. Even for the Olympics, he would not run on a Sunday.

If the story ended there, there would be no movie. Liddell saw that the 400 Meter race wasn’t scheduled for Sunday, so he entered that one instead. There’s a reason the Olympics only happen every four years- to train to insane perfection for an event. You don’t just swap events like you’re switching out ties.

Unless you’re Eric Liddell.

He won Olympic gold in a race for which he didn’t train. He could have run the 100 on Sunday. Certainly the odds were in his favor, but God had something better in mind for Eric Liddell. Liddell had to push back against the forces exerted against him: gravity, wind, Scotland, an unbelieving world that thought he was ridiculous. He pushed back and won his integrity and a victory. Had he lost the 400 Meter, he’d still have won his integrity. Eric Liddell is my hero before he won the 400 Meter. His excellence was complete before the gun ever went off.

The common denominator I’ve seen in the pursuit of excellence is a constant push back. Besides the inherent difficulty of doing a thing well, are the ever present admonishments by well-meaning folks who don’t want you to burn out. My daughter had to fight for the opportunity to take 18 college credits one summer. An ugly fight. I had to fight to graduate high school at 16 years old- two summers in a row- before they’d acquiesce. In both cases the problem wasn’t lack of capacity; I suspect our alien motivation was somehow an affront.

Ok, I’ll just say it: Excellence can be offensive. Eric Liddell’s brand of it certainly was. And in my own little way, I offend people all over the place. Always pushing for the age exception. Always asking for more resources, more coaching, more opportunity. If your excellence offends, it may be you need to take a nice pill, or it may be you’re on the right track.

E is for EXCELLENCE.

What You Give to Get “Amazing”

Gabe ButterflyGabe. 10 years old. He’s amazing. That’s how the pain and hardship begin, when someone besides mom utters the seemingly innocuous words: You’re amazing. My amazing boy practices swimming with kids a minimum of three years his senior. When he was with kids his age, swimming practice started at 10AM. But his amazing asserted itself, and he was asked to move to the 9AM slot. Then, more amazing, the 8AM slot. Now I shake him awake at 7:15 every weekday of his summer.

On the way to swimming Gabe said, “I’m tired. I hope we don’t swim for distance today. I hope we do the short work.”

As I turned to leave, I heard the coach say, “Ok, we’re going to warm up with a thousand SKIPS… two hundred of this, two hundred of that, two hundred blah blah…” I don’t understand the intricate details of swimming yet because we’re new to it.

Just one year ago I bribed Gabe with an ice cream cone to jump in without holding his nose. Gabe was amazing last year too, when in his first-ever swimming class, they moved him up three levels in two days and recommended we search out a more serious swimming venue. His coach mentioned the Olympics, and Gabe’s eyes glazed over. Anyway, I think he’s swimming distance today. There’s not much rest when you’re amazing.

That got me thinking about being “amazing.”

For starters, there’s no time to worship the trophy case.

It looks like Gabe, shoving down a piece of broccoli at 7:25 AM, so that he listened to Coach’s directive to “eat before swimming.” It looks like the polar plunge for Gabe and the few blue-lipped crazies who show up to swim when it’s freezing cold outside. It looks like pushing harder than he wanted because the hulking guy behind him keeps hitting his feet. It looks like tomorrow he’s going to be afraid to come, he’s going to get a bellyache and want to stay home, but mom’s going to drag his mewling self there either way, so might as well suck in his teary snot and just get it over with. Again. Day in and day out is what amazing looks like. Mom promises it will get easier. Mom is often a liar. When one is amazing, it is not a result or a trophy or a tag, but a string of choices that becomes a groove we fall into automatically, a philosophy we embrace with white knuckles, panting.

This is what we give up in order to get “amazing.”

Give #1. Big frog. IF there is a choice, we always chose to be the small frog in the big pond, rather than vice versa. In this decision we often give up the friends, comfort, and accolades. We put ourselves in the company of people who push us, hard. It usually hurts for a while. Or forever.

Give #2. Sleep. One can’t sleep and be amazing at the same time. Like one can’t be wet and dry at the same time. This is hardest for me. I love sleep. Amazing kids have moms with puffy eyes, who find things to do in the car because going home isn’t worth it.

Give #3. Comfort. See the second Give. But besides the discomfort of exhaustion, we must put ourselves in environments no one else dares to go. Again, friends, normalcy, watching the grass grow… all gone.

Give #4. The Gold. Never spend time standing in front of your trophy case. It’s the fastest way to slip out of God’s blessing and into arrogance or pride. Whatever amazing one was born with, is from God. Whatever toil you’ve thrown at your natural-born-amazing is from God as well. I believe that’s why Paul tells us to “forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead.”

Give #5. The broad road and the friends who travel it. Get comfortable being weird or misunderstood.

So we give, we sacrifice if we want to be amazing. And, like anything coveted, amazing grows wings and flies to higher and higher nests, requiring ever more effort to reach it. What was amazing last week is the status quo today. My job as mom is to counteract that dynamic and  be amazed, always.

All week Gabe has been looking forward to today, Fun Friday at swimming. As I write this (in my car) Gabe is playing water polo with kids twice his size and weight. It looks like a scene from JAWS.

That he can hang with kids that big and not shrink or complain or cling to the side of the pool in wide-eyed paralysis of terror– amazing. Today, anyway.